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Potsdam planning board predicts group home opposition

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POTSDAM - Village planning board members heard an overview of a proposed group home at 88 Market St. Thursday night, as well as a preview of opposition likely to come.

New Hope Transformation House Ministries, formed by members of New Hope Community Church, presented its preliminary plan Thursday night to planning board members to house homeless women who struggle with drug addiction looking to restart their lives.

If the village grants the necessary permits, construction likely will begin at 88 Market St., the long-vacant parcel where Rep. Bertrand H. Snell’s residence once stood, next spring. The 10- to 12-bed home will be an aftercare facility for women leaving rehab without a place to go. It will provide a drug-free environment, job placement and recovery help from a Christian world view.

Carolyn White, formerly the director at the chemical dependency unit at Canton-Potsdam Hospital,said the home will hopefully address deeply-rooted problems causing addiction and also offer services like debt and financial counseling.

“Addictions solve their feelings rather than the problems causing those feelings,” she said.

The home will take in women who are committed to recovery and are willing to abide by the living standards set by the program. Although the program will be faith-based, women will not need to belong to any religion to live at the house.

The house will be of a similar scale to the other buildings on Market Street, architect Rebecca N. Weld explained.

“It lets you anchor that whole stretch,” she said.

Planning board member Theodore Prahl praised the building’s design, but expected the community would hesitate at its intended use.

“Personally I think it’s a wonderful use,” he said. “It’s a relatively hard sell until the neighborhood knows the nature of their residents and what their patterns are.”

Former village board member Helen Brouwer lives next door to the project and showed up Thursday night to express her concerns. She said some of her opinions may be biased, but felt she represented the community’s concerns too.

“I think this is a terrible location for this proposed use,” she said. “I can imagine some of the kinds of traffic it would create which would not be favorable.”

She pictured ex-boyfriends and drug dealers approaching the group home and wondered why the church couldn’t build the building on its property.

“It certainly would be a threat to my safety and security,” she said. “I think it’s a bad location for the village as a whole.”

The proposal will eventually head to a public hearing, at which point planning board members expect to hear additional concerns. Board members praised the project’s attempt to address a regional need, but forewarned of upcoming criticism.

“Helen is just the tip of the iceberg,” member Will Sigfried said.

New Hope pastor John K. Ault and Ms. White defended the project’s location and merits.

“There is an immense need for women who are coming out of recovery in the north country,” Mr. Ault said. The home is centrally located to allow the women who live there to walk to businesses and potentially find a job along Market Street; the residents would not have a car.

“The ladies need a place that’s convenient to them for shopping and for work and that’s an ideal location,” Mr. Ault said. “It’s the best place we can find.”

New Hope is already planning to build an education center and additional parking on its church property and does not have room for the home, he said. Ms. White also emphasized the home and neighborhood would be safe; residents would stay nine to 12 months on average.

“The first three months they wouldn’t be going anyplace without the staff coming with them,” she said. “Incoming visits would be few to none. They’re making a break with their past.”

The location in a stable neighborhood may also inspire the residents, Ms. Weld added.

“If you bring them to this nice place in the middle of this nice town ... that empowers them to make those steps to go and live in some other nice place,” she said.

New Hope will provide facts and figures about the home’s budget and staffing levels at the public hearing to address concerns, Ms. White said. Mr. Ault said he understood why the project could draw criticism from neighbors.

“We’re going to run a tight ship in what we allow them to do,” Mr. Ault said. “I hear what they’re saying, and I’m sympathetic to that. I’m confident we will provide the supervision and security that’s necessary.”

Convincing the public will be critical, Mr. Prahl said.

“There’s going to be several Helen Brouwers at the next meeting,” Mr. Prahl said. “You’re going to have to prove to the neighborhood and to the community that it’s worth the potential risk to their peace of mind. You’re going to have to convince the community this is viable and sustainable and good for us.”

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