Plans to convert former convent to a residential alcohol and drug treatment facility cause stir in Ward 14
by Jerleen Justus
(Plain Press, May 2012) A proposal to turn the former convent at the property of Community Care Network, 2202 Prame, into a residential alcohol and drug treatment facility has drawn both opposition and support.
After 19 years, the Hispanic Urban Minority Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Outreach Program (HUMADAOP) found themselves in need of a new location when the Blessed Sacrament Campus (3407 Trowbridge – convent and church, 3381 Fulton), was sold to Bay Presbyterian Church. As a result of the new owners taking possession of the property, HUMADAOP was forced to close their program services in December 2011 and look for a new home.
HUMADAOP hopes that the former convent at 2202, behind the former St. Michael’s High School, could be the new home for the program. West Side Ministries/Community Care Network owns the building. Community Care Network has its offices in the former St. Michael’s School at 3146 Scranton Avenue in front of the former convent.
An announcement of HUMADAOP’s intentions was made at the March 1, 2012, Ward 14 Tremont Community Development meeting facilitated by Councilman Brian Cummins and held in the Community Care Newtork’s building at 3146 Scranton. The councilman announced that there would be extensive outreach to the community as well as a public meeting scheduled for March 27, 2012, for the purpose of addressing any questions and concerns residents may have concerning HUMADAOP.
Sixty citizens gathered at the March 1st meeting, most of them voicing their discontent and complaints about the growing rate of drug trafficking, break-ins, prostitution, and other criminal activities in their neighborhood, especially on and around Prame, Scranton and Clark Avenues.
The outreach process began after the March 1st meeting, as residents in opposition as well as supporters of the in-house treatment facility took to the streets, knocking on doors and asking for signatures. Tremont West Development Corporation (TWDC) staff, committee and board members canvassed the surrounding area providing residents with a list of options for making their recommendation known.
Councilman Cummins appeared at the Tremont West Development Economic Development Committee on March 8, 2012, and introduced HUMADAOP’s Interim Director. HUMADAOP Interim Director Francisco Alfonzo presented the organization’s proposal, made explanations and answered question of the committee members and residents.
Alfonzo stated that, in seeking a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals, it was HUMADAOP’s intent to house 15 to 18 patients and provide support, treatment and counseling through the recovery process. At that time, HUMADAOP officials state the bilingual program was strictly voluntary and did not deal with court ordered cases. The program will offer in-house residential accommodations for nine men and six women with a sixty-day stay for women and a forty-day recovery period for men.
Following the March 27th public meeting discussions, Clark Avenue resident Dennis Maxwell referenced a new bill passed by the State legislature (SB 117) and stated, “There is a dramatic change. They now seem to be gearing up to being a provider for court ordered voluntary treatment for alcohol and drug abuse.” The announcement of this, caused speculation about what kind of clients would be accepted into the resident program.
HUMADAOP officials disclaim that the passing of SB 117 on March 22 and with a deadline of April 27th for request for proposals, has any bearing on their plans.
At the public meetings, some resident and business property owners said they are concerned with the added element of crime and possible threat to their community. Others expressed concerns about the economic effect an alcohol and drug treatment facility might have on their neighborhood saying, “who would want to buy a house across from a drug treatment facility?”
At the second public meeting, with HUMADAOP officials present, stability of the organization’s financial status has come into question based on their agreement to sign a five year lease with Community Care Network, which includes a one year opt out clause. Holmden Avenue resident Sandy Smith stated, “I live here and I don’t have a one year out option.”
Ward 14 Tremont real estate/rehab property developer Eric Lutzo stated he had asked to review HUMADAOP financial records more than once with no response. It was suggested by TWDC Board President Henry Senyak that the BOZA hearing scheduled for Monday, April 23, 2012 be postponed for at least 30 days. HUMADAOP representatives stated this delay was not possible.
In an electronic communication to TWDC Executive Director Cory Riordan on April 19, 2012, Councilman Cummins stated that he was in support of the HUMADAOP project and would be presenting a formal letter to BOZA confirming his decision. Cummins also stated that, “Their staff and organization would provide a benefit to the community in having professionals located at this building, monitoring not only their clients but the adjacent areas to the building and property.”
Cummins and HUMADAOP representatives say they are willing to sign a Cooperation Agreement to appease those in doubt.
Following Director Riordan’s reading of the letter and a brief discussion, the TWDC Board of Directors voted unanimously to pass a resolution that they would take no action at this time but would request that a thirty day postponement of the April 23, 2012, hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals be granted.