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Potsdam group home proposal tabled

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POTSDAM - The village Planning Board on Thursday night tabled approval of a proposed Market Street group home.

New Hope Transformation House Ministries, formed by members of New Hope Community Church, plans a 10- to 12-bed home at 88 Market St. for women leaving rehab without a place to go. It would provide job placement and recovery assistance in a drug-free, Christian environment, the church says. With the needed permits, construction would probably begin next spring.

Approximately 20 people attended the over hour-long public hearing Thursday night, with around a half-dozen speaking in favor of the project, and a half dozen against. Concerns of neighbors near the proposed project, like worries about the home’s residents and potential drainage and hydrology issues were enough for the board to table the vote until their next meeting Oct. 18.

Board member Theodore Prahl encouraged New Hope members to go door-to-door and better explain the project to the Market and Garden street neighbors surrounding the proposed construction before the next meeting.

“There’s a great deal of worry and opposition in the neighborhood,” Mr. Prahl said. “I think it would be very necessary for you to meet with these people and quell their fears or move on.”

Carolyn M. White, formerly the director at the chemical dependency unit at Canton-Potsdam Hospital, is spearheading the group home effort. She said the home will hopefully address deeply rooted problems causing addiction and also offer services such as debt and financial counseling. Ms. White said New Hope is hashing out a master plan, which indicates the concept is financially sustainable.

Staff will be present 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the women who go will choose to be in the faith-based environment, she said.

“No women can be ‘sent’ here,” she said. “It’s not like it’s an alternative to incarceration.”

Men’s group homes in Canton and Madrid have not created any problems in their respective neighborhoods, Ms. White said. A women’s home would fill a void in the area.

“When we care for the least of our brethren, we care for all of us,” Ms. White said.

But neighbors like Elizabeth List said the project does not belong on Market Street.

“Are we residents to sacrifice the last few positive small town qualities in our neighborhood for the sake of a group of problematic women who need to walk downtown?” she asked.

Trustees Ruth Garner and Eleanor Hopke also opposed the project, but for different reasons. Ms. Hopke said she did not want to see another property come off the tax rolls; board members often cite the large percentage of tax-exempt property in Potsdam - nearly 70 - as a cause for a higher tax rate.

Ms. Garner said she is one of the few who still remember Prohibition; she learned from that era that it’s often difficult to control actions and behaviors.

“It can’t be done,” Ms. Garner said. “We can’t always, however well-intentioned, help people who do not want to be helped.”

But New Hope could help and even change lives, according to Pastor John Ault. Generations of family dysfunction could be broken with the help of the center, he said.

“I would like to challenge both the neighborhood and the village with the opportunity to help these women,” Mr. Ault said.

Robert Ludlam, who lives nearby on Pleasant Street, worried more about nearby college fraternity houses than he did about the proposed group home.

“That has had a very negative impact on quality of life issues,” Mr. Ludlam said. “I see none of that coming from this type of home.”

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