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Donna’s House Permit Placed on Hold

August 6, 2008

By Erin Nicholes, The Montana Standard, Butte

Aug. 6–ANACONDA — A permit that would allow a youth center to operate in a residential neighborhood is temporarily on hold, the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Commission decided Tuesday.

Commissioners agreed to send a special use permit for Donna’s House — a youth center trying to move to 212 E. Fourth St. — back to the county planning board. Anaconda PCA, which runs the center, requested the application be tabled.

“PCA has pulled this off the table to try to work out an agreement with the neighborhood,” Commissioner Frank Knadler said. “That would be best.” PCA has applied for a special use permit to turn the home, which it recently purchased, into Donna’s House. The application would allow the center to operate Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., and serve about 35 kids a day.

But the center’s executive board asked commissioners to table the application to allow time to work out differences with neighbors and study the requirements of a grant secured to fund the center.

“Neighbors did have valid concerns and we didn’t want this to be a lifelong battle in the neighborhood,” said board member Chris Leipheimer. “We do think we can come to an agreement, but it’s going to take a couple of months of investigation.” The center’s leadership has said the proposed location is ideal for a youth center because it’s close to the Hearst Free Library, Fred Moodry Middle School, Anaconda High School and other kid-friendly locations.

But neighbors have expressed opposition to the center, saying it would pose noise, lighting and other problems.

Center leadership has met with neighbors and is trying to reach a compromise, Leipheimer said.

Meanwhile, center officials are also trying to determine the specific requirements of a grant that may call for changes to the special use permit application, said Dave Fenchak, PCA executive director.

The center landed a $70,000 21st Century Learning Grant for the center, but the money comes with requirements for hours of operation and number of children served. Specifically, it may require Donna’s House to be open additional hours beyond with the existing special use permit application would allow, Fenchak said.

“They also want you to be available to do certain evenings and weekends,” he said.

Some at Tuesday’s meeting urged ultimate approval of the permit, and a swift end to the delay.

“The longer you delay it, the more you’re telling the county you don’t support them,” said Neal Warner, a planning board member and commission candidate.

Leipheimer said Donna’s House will continue to operate in temporary locations until the details of the special use permit are worked out.

“We want the youth to know we haven’t forgotten them,” she said.

— Reporter Erin Nicholes may be reached at erin.nicholes@lee.net

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