Tuerk House Update


Volume XXI, Issue II

Dear GHCA Members and Friends:

Although we have posted a few brief updates regarding what has been transpiring with the Tuerk House facility in Highland, we have not issued a complete update on this matter until now.

Community Meeting

On February 23 a standing-room-only Community Meeting was conducted with representatives of Tuerk House at St. Marks. Also in attendance were staff from our County Council persons’ offices. At the close of the meeting, Tuerk House Executive Director, Bernard Foster, agreed to provide an executive summary letter in which they would address the community’s concerns.

Meeting Follow-up

Within less than a week, GHCA officers wrote Mr. Foster, requesting agreement on 17 specific points of concern strongly voiced during the February 23 meeting. The objective of this communication was to elicit a positive response from Tuerk House, addressing these points to the community’s satisfaction.

Tuerk House Response

Over a month passed before we received the Tuerk response. It was nothing more than a marked-up copy of GHCA’s letter, agreeing to some points and neglecting to address others. It was not on their letter head, nor did it carry a signature. It was certainly not the binding agreement we sought. GHCA quickly responded, stating our disappointment in the less than satisfactory response and advising Tuerk House we were prepared to take further steps with Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ).

Shortly Thereafter

In early May, County Executive Calvin Ball held a press conference in which he announced $2.5 million to expand Behavioral Health Services, including $500,000.00 for the Tuerk House Facility in Highland.

At around the same time an important decision, against DPZ, was handed down by a Howard County Board of Appeals Hearing Examiner in the case of the Manor Hill Brewery on a dead end, residential street off Route 108 in Clarksville. The Examiner found that DPZ had been “arbitrary and capricious” in making only the most cursory investigation of the neighbors’ legitimate zoning complaint. In order to take their case to the level of the Hearing Examiner, this necessitated the expenditure of many thousands of dollars in legal expenses. The decision is likely to be appealed by the County, which will incur further legal expense from the aggrieved residents of Manor Lane.

The sum total of these two incidents made it clear to the GHCA Board that:

  • City Hall is firmly in favor of the Tuerk House expansion in Highland; and
  • A complaint to DPZ will likely necessitate taking it through several appeals at a projected cost of over $100,000.00.

The GHCA Board is in agreement we should not expend your dues money in a battle which has virtually no chance for success. Further, in order to mount this effort, the community will need to raise the considerable funds to cover the legal fees.

By Way Of Background

In 2016 a study was completed on behalf of the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration to determine, on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis, the need for Opioid Treatment Centers in Maryland. The study showed Howard County needs 1700 more placements than are currently available! This study only addressed Opioid Treatment. If other addictions were included, the County’s resource shortfall would be even greater. Hence County Executive Ball’s commitment of $2.5 million to expand the County’s current placement inventory.

Next Steps

In June, GHCA officers met with our County Council Representative, Deb Jung, and Carl DeLorenzo, Director of Policy and Programs for the County Executive. Mr. DeLorenzo specializes on Healthcare issues. We shared our previous correspondence with Tuerk House and the disappointing response received. It was agreed that Councilperson Jung and Mr. DeLorenzo would communicate directly with Bernard Foster of Tuerk House to develop a binding agreement which will meet the needs of the greater Highland community. At this writing those discussions are on-going.

Current Status of Tuerk House in Highland

At this time the project is still awaiting its license from the State Department of Health’s Office of Healthcare Quality. Until the license is received, the project cannot be opened and operational.

A Further Option

Citizens of Highland, who are directly and negatively affected, may lodge a complaint with DPZ on the basis that the terms of the Caswell Conditional Use are not being adhered to in the Tuerk House case. The Caswell Conditional Use specifically limits the site to the care of elderly people. Pregnant women and women with young children do not fit this definition. This would be a long shot. However, it would put the objection on record as one more instance of DPZ’s flexible interpretation of rulings.

GHCA cannot file this complaint because in legal terms the organization lacks standing. We have learned from a similar, previous situation the complaint must be lodged by a person, or persons, who can show damages or losses.

In The Final Analysis

GHCA plans to continue to work with Council Person Jung, Mr. DeLorenzo, and their associates to achieve the binding agreement representatives of Tuerk House agreed to at the meeting on February 23. We believe this is the most effective means of achieving a working relationship which will foster and protect the interests of the greater Highland community. During this process there will be an opportunity for review and input by the immediate neighbors who will be most directly affected by the facility.