FARMINGTON — Residents of a central Farmington neighborhood are concerned about a transitional housing program for men that could open its doors by next summer.
And they're opposing a proposed zoning change that would allow the home to increase its capacity from eight to 12 residents.
For the past two years, Masada House has operated a successful program on North Dustin Street that helps women battling substance abuse transition to a drug- and alcohol-free life.
The City of Farmington has leased to Masada House a building located on Schofield Lane, in which the organization hopes to build a similar program for men wishing to live substance-free. Like the women's program, male participants would be able to live in the house for up to two years and would receive peer-based mentoring, life-skills training, employment assistance and other support.
The Schofield building formerly served as a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence situations, but it has been vacant for the past two years. It is zoned to allow eight adults to live there, but Masada House has applied for a zoning change and special use permit that would increase that number to twelve and allow it the designation of Group Care Facility. It would become the first such transitional program for men in the area.
Because of some neighborhood concerns, the Planning and Zoning Commission has tabled its recommendation until its next meeting on Oct. 24.
To help explain the program to future neighbors, Masada House opened its doors on Monday, and several Schofield Lane residents took the invitation.
Jessica Stopani, Masada House manager, said the zoning change was requested because groups of 12 individuals have been proven to be more effective for recovery than groups of eight.
Much of the opposition to the zoning change -- and in fact even to the very presence of such a facility on the street -- is due to the house's proximity to the Farmington Public Library and several schools. Residents are in the process of passing around a petition voicing their concern.
"Because the building used to be the battered women's shelter, people would sometimes crawl over the fence to get to the house, and some of the neighbors did have problems," said Rhonda Wright-Frazier, whose house is next door to the future transitional home. Wright-Frazier, who has three daughters and holds Girl Scout meetings in her house, is particularly concerned about the safety of children in the neighborhood.
Stopani says that men in the new program will be screened, and no sex offenders or violent offenders will be accepted.
"This is a whole different group of people," she said. "They won't be hiding from stalkers -- these are men who want recovery."
Masada House board member Krista Lawrence agrees that the population the house will be serving is completely different from that served by the previous facility.
"What people need to understand is that these men want to be there," she said. "When people leave treatment, they often have nowhere else to go but back into their old environment. Masada House provides them with a safe place to continue on with their recovery."
Several residents are also worried that the property value of houses in the neighborhood will decline, but Masada House program director Karen Chenault says this is not the case.
"There is no increase in police calls (with this type of transitional home). We actually improve the homes we're in and home values go up," she said.
Chenault said that while she is not surprised there is some opposition to the home, she was unaware of it until recently, and encourages all concerned to contact her with questions and to find out more about the Masada House program. She says there will be another meeting to give future neighbors a chance to have their questions answered prior to the Oct. 24 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, but details have not yet been set.
Alana Ortega, whose 85-year-old father lives on the other side of the proposed transitional facility, said another point of contention is that residents do not feel they were given enough notice -- not only about the zone change, but about the fact that a transitional house for men was even being planned for their street.
"Most of the neighbors were not aware, and a sign on the property was not put up until Sept. 27," she said.
Cindy Lopez, the city's Community Development Department senior planner, said the city did place a notice in The Daily Times on Sept. 22, and also sent out notifications to every neighbor within 100 feet of the house, in addition to posting the notice on the building.
Dan Mauldin is senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church on Sullivan Street. The church operates a K-12 Christian academy, whose playground is directly adjacent to the future transitional facility. Mauldin is supportive of transitional programs like Masada House, but says he is reserving his opinion on the future home until he obtains more information.
"As a pastor who's counseled drug and alcohol addicts, I am all in favor of this kind of organization in our community," he said. "The need is huge; we need to support people who want to recover. But I also am responsible for the care of over 90 students, and if parents start pulling kids out of the school because of this, we won't be able to pay our teachers."
Wright-Frazier said that although she currently opposes the zoning change, if and when the house does open on her street, she will be welcoming.
"If it goes in I'll embrace it; you've got to embrace your neighbors. But until I'm 100 percent okay with it, I'm going to fight it," she said.
For information about Masada House or plans for the upcoming transitional men's program, contact Karen Chenault at 505-325-9205.