Despite opposition from nearly two dozen residents, the Swarthmore Borough Council voted Monday night to allow a seven-bedroom home steps from Swarthmore College to be turned into a temporary residence for cancer patients receiving treatment in the region.
The unanimous vote by the all-Democratic council came after weeks of objection from neighbors who suggested that the nonprofit HEADstrong Foundation was using a "backdoor" way to open a property opponents say would operate similarly to a hotel, but in a residential neighborhood.
Cheryl Colleluori, president of HEADstrong, the nonprofit behind the project, wiped tears from her eyes after the meeting, and hugged family members and numerous neighbors who attended in support.
The seven-member council, which voted, 6-0 with one abstention, said little about its decision.
Later Monday, neighbors opposed to the home indicated the fight might not be over.
"We continue to have serious concerns about the accommodation that haven't been addressed," the neighbors wrote in a statement distributed by resident Lisa Feehery. "We will be meeting as a group and decide how to proceed with our appeal."
If the neighbors appeal, HEADstrong is prepared to take the case to federal court, said Christine Reuther, a lawyer representing the nonprofit.
Council's decision means HEADstrong, based in Ridley Township, can proceed with its plan to open the facility by next spring. The home, at 200 S. Chester Rd., will house as many as 14 people - seven cancer patients and one caretaker for each.
"This is just historic, it's monumental. It's for Nick," Colleluori said moments after the decision, referring to her son. "It's my promise kept to my child."
Inspired by her own experience traveling for Nick's cancer treatment, Colleluori aims to build a home that would give out-of-town cancer patients a free place to stay while undergoing care at local hospitals. Colleluori and her son, who was found to have acute lymphoma at 19, stayed in a similar facility near the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md.
She said Nick's dying wish was to have his mother find ways to ease the burden on cancer patients' families.
There were barriers to making it work. But Colleluori said resistance from neighbors was one thing she never expected.
Still, she said, HEADstrong is forging ahead and plans to close the sale next week.
The three-story house is zoned residential, but is at one of the borough's busiest intersections, and yards from the Swarthmore Community Center and Swarthmore Presbyterian Church. The house had previously been owned by Swarthmore College and Swarthmore Presbyterian, property records show.
To operate, HEADstrong needed an accommodation under the Fair Housing Act allowing the home to exceed Swarthmore's limit of three unrelated people per home. In September, after HEADstrong agreed to buy the home for nearly $700,000, Swarthmore's planning commission granted the accommodation.
Nearly two dozen neighbors appealed.
Their concerns centered on the home's transient nature - patients will stay for six to eight weeks - making it difficult for neighbors to know who is living in the house. Other concerns included whether the home would add more traffic to the busy block, and whether granting HEADstrong an accommodation would set a precedent for other nonprofits or businesses to move into residential homes.
"We were disappointed," said James J. Byrne Jr., the neighbors' attorney. "My clients . . . hope they won't be vilified for trying to voice their opinion about their property rights."