FARMINGTON — After a lengthy and emotional meeting Thursday, the Farmington Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of a request for a zone change for the future Masada House transitional program for men.
The commission also approved a special use permit that would allow the nonprofit to house 12 men, instead of its current eight.
The recommendation came with a provision that a tall, opaque fence or wall be constructed around much of the property. A majority of neighbors at the meeting opposed the zone change.
For two years, Masada House has operated a program for women recovering from substance abuse at a house on North Dustin Street. Administrators plan to open an identical residential program for males on Schofield Lane by next spring.
Several Schofield Lane residents attended Thursday's meeting to argue against the zone change.
While those opposed said they see a need for the transitional housing program, they questioned the choice of Schofield Lane, which is the center of numerous community venues frequented by children, such as the Farmington Public Library, the Boys and Girls Club and several schools.
Upon a recommendation of a previous commission meeting, Masada House has hosted two open house events, one at its current home and another at its future home, to allow neighbors to tour the facilities and ask questions.
"I understand the concerns, but when we come together to help people in our community, great things can happen," said Karen Chenault, Masada House program director. "There's a lot of evidence that this kind of program really helps the community. The program is for people who want to be there, who want to get back to work, and it provides them a safe and clean environment to do that. When I hear 'not in my backyard,' I think that's mostly about fear."
Kim DuTremaine, CEO of Cottonwood Clinical Services, works with many of the clients who would be served by the men's program.
"Many of 'these people' I keep hearing about are professionals. They're doctors, nurses, judges, lawyers, police officers," she said. "They're your sons and daughters. We're talking about our community members who have problems because of their addictions. This will not be a flop house, just a healthy place for these people to go."
Brian Gottschalk, school administrator for the Christian Academy operated by Grace Baptist Church, said his main concern is for the safety of the academy's 92 students, who range in age from 4 to 18. The church and academy are located on North Sullivan Avenue and are separated from the backyard of the future men's home by a chain link fence.
"At the very least, we would request a block fence or wall that's at least 8 feet tall to limit visibility of the home and the kids," said Gottschalk, adding that it could be dangerous for the men in the house to recognize children through the fence. "This isn't just a case of saying, 'not in our backyard.' Familiarity decreases safety."
Gottschalk said another concern is residents of Masada House relapsing and using drugs or alcohol on the property.
"We'd just be much more comfortable with a wall," he said.
Masada House representatives repeated that no sex offenders or men with violent histories would be accepted into the program.
Jerry Worrell, crime analyst for the Farmington Police Department, said there have been several police calls to the women's Masada House concerning residents violating the program's policies by showing up under the influence of alcohol.
But Worrell stressed that police consider those calls to be minor. Chenault said Masada House administrators made those calls to police to ensure residents were held accountable for their actions.
Alana Ortega spoke at the meeting for her 85-year-old father, Juan Ortega, who lives directly next to the future men's home. Ortega presented to the commission a petition signed by 84 nearby residents and business owners, as well as a color-coded map showing that a majority of neighbors oppose the home's presence on the street.
"Only two residents said they didn't have a problem with it," she said.
Following the meeting, Rhonda Frazier, who lives on the southern side of the proposed men's house, said many residents are also frustrated that the city of Farmington moved forward with the decision to allow the home to move into the neighborhood without consulting residents. She said some neighbors are considering consulting attorneys.
The commission's recommendation for a zone change will now go before the Farmington City Council on Nov. 12 for a final decision. Council will examine both sides of the issue, and if more than 20 percent of the neighbors within 100 feet of the future men's home protest the zone change, it can only be approved by a majority vote of the council, according to city staff.