The Forge Youth Academy is looking for a new home, having been denied a conditional-use request as the organization sought to move into the former Food Rite property on Main Street in Selbyville.
The Selbyville Planning & Zoning Commission denied Forge’s request on March 13, by unanimous vote.
Forge currently meets at the House of Mercy on Route 113, just north of Selbyville, but is looking for a new location, since House of Mercy will be vacating those premises in August, according to Tara Shrieves, co-founder of the Forge youth program.
Shrieves said she had submitted 52 letters in support of the organization as part of the conditional-use process and had collected 100 signatures on a petition supporting Forge.
She said there were enough supporters at a February meeting on the application that the meeting room was “standing-room only.” According to meeting minutes, although Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman Jay Murray acknowledged the number of people in attendance, he noted that only four of those in the audience actually live in Selbyville and that the commission represents the residents of Selbyville.
Murray also noted that the hearing was addressing the proposed location, not the merits of the program itself. Forge holds weekly youth gatherings on Friday nights and has begun a program called REWIND, which provides support for young adults who are restarting their lives after issues such as incarceration or drug use.
Shrieves, in an interview this week, emphasized that, contrary to comments from some who opposed the application, REWIND is not “drug rehab.” Instead, it provides career counseling and other services to those who are ready to take the next step toward productive lives.
At the February P&Z meeting, Murray told Shrieves the commission would “not even consider occupation of the building” until all work to renovate it is complete. According to meeting minutes, Murray also “indicated he was willing to work with Forge but that the members needed to discuss appropriate conditions to attach to any approval.”
Murray also told Shrieves that, even if the planning commission approved the application, the final decision would be up to the town council.
The owner of the property is Leimbach Investments LLC, which plans to put a carpet store on part of the property. Leimbach, as the property owner, would have been ultimately responsible for meeting any conditions imposed by the commission.
Commissioner Mike Doyle expressed concerns about that property’s proximity to the road, fearing that children would “run into the busy street,” according to the meeting minutes. Doyle was also concerned that trucks for the carpet business would cause a problem.
A sole resident, Councilman Clarence “Bud” Tingle, spoke against the application. Tingle, who lives across the street from the proposed location, stated that Forge “does not belong in a residential neighborhood.” The proposed site is zoned as Historic Business.
After a motion by Commissioner and Councilman Rick Duncan, the application was tabled at the February meeting. At the next planning commission meeting, however, the application was denied.
“As of now,” Shrieves said, “we have five months to find a new home.”
Once it does so, she said, she hopes to expand existing Forge programs, such as Forge Fridays, and add more Saturday activities for families, such as movie nights, small concerts and other activities. She said she would also like to add drop-in hours for teens “so that they’re not out running in the street” after school, and “to give kids a safe zone to hang out that’s drug- and alcohol-free.”
Teens in the program currently gather on Saturdays for community-service projects, she said.
Shrieves said that, ideally, she would like to find a space that has at least 2,000 square feet available.
“We’re not going to give up,” she said.