By Brett Milam
A home purchased in Pierce Township by Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services, for the purposes of being a substance abuse recovery home, stirred passions and opposition at the trustee meeting on April 12.
The 1,560 square foot home on 3814 Merwin 10 Mile Road is a four-bedroom, which was sold on Feb. 2, with the purposes of placing seven individuals with substance abuse issues in the dwelling for recovery.
Many of the residents who spoke at the meeting said they were concerned about the recovery home being in their “backyard,” meeting zoning codes and being within 1,000 feet of Merwin Elementary School.
“I don’t understand how it can be placed there when it is zoned for single-family,” Stacy Longhauster, a resident at the meeting who lives near the home, said. “This is in my backyard. A parking lot has been placed in the back of this property.”
Chairwoman Bonnie Batchler responded that they are just beginning to gather information and that they are not “prepared to respond.”
Even so, for the next nearly 50 minutes, the board of trustees fielded numerous complaints from citizens at the packed meeting.
“Where I think we are on this is that this is a relatively new issue that’s popped up; we’ve asked our legal counsel to look into it and to see where we stand legally from a zoning perspective and from other aspects,” Vice Chair Allen Freeman said. “It’s a complex issue that actually goes beyond just our zoning code; it goes all the way to issues of constitutionality and issues that we want to make sure we deal with properly.”
To which Longhauster responded, “Well, unfortunately we’re running out of time. And this was found out by us just a few weeks ago.”
According to residents, the substance abuse home is slated to open in May.
Dennis Luken, a resident who also lives near the home, asked if the GCB communicated with anyone from Pierce Township regarding this.
To which only Trustee Bob Pautke seemed to know anything about the planned recovery home, as Batchler and Freeman said they were not aware of it until citizens began complaining to them a week or so ago.
“Yeah, they contacted me, saying, ‘We bought this place,'” Pautke said.
Pautke said he knew this about “five weeks ago, six weeks ago,” and when asked by a resident if he relayed that to the other trustees, he said he had relayed it to them.
“I found out about this at the beginning of last week while I was on vacation,” Batchler said. “So therefore, I have not had time to look into any of this at all.”
Batchler later added, speaking directly to GCB, “I shouldn’t be on vacation and getting phone calls from residents telling me things I knew absolutely nothing about. I couldn’t help them. I felt lost. I honestly think your organization should have requested to be put on an agenda and come and discuss this with the whole board of trustees so we don’t have egg on our face when residents are calling concerned with this home going into the community,”
Donald Newbauer, who also lives near the home, said to Pautke, “I’m sorry, sir, but you dropped the ball. This should have been brought to our people’s knowledge much earlier.”
He added, “From what you’re saying, this is a done deal because if you meet the middle of next month, they’re already in there in two weeks, then what? My god, what are we doing here? What are you guys doing?”
Pautke said he would accept responsibility for not sharing with any of the other trustees sooner after he was contacted.
“Now, with that said, the purchase of that home was done, there was nothing triggered. We don’t get told about every home-to-home purchase that takes place,” he said.
Confusion over the home
Longhauster said she built her house on nearby Will-O-Ee Drive 16 years ago because it’s where she grew up; she said she raised her kids in the township.
“And then to have something like this come in next door; it’s unacceptable,” she said.
Tom Keating, the attorney for the township, said he doesn’t believe it’s a group home since it’s his understanding that there’s not going to be a resident supervisor there.
However, Longhauster said she was told by Alicia Fine with the GCB, vice president of employment and recovery services, that there would be a supervisor, called a house manager and then the second time she spoke to them, they were called a lead.
With respect to the zoning issue, the trustees and Keeting said none of that triggered a notice to the board.
“Zoning refers to the use, there’s no question about that,” Keeting said, adding that it’s not about who owns the home, whether it’s a person, a business or a non-profit. “The question is whether they are operating a business there or a group home. That’s the key question.
Throughout the meeting, the trustees and Keeting pointed out that Scott Melvin, the township’s zoning inspector, approved the home.
“Scott made an interpretation; I disagree with the interpretation. As you know, this board has the final say,” Freeman said. “This isn’t going to be popular, but I have to say, the construction of that property was done prior to behavioral services. So that work was all permitted and legal. That work was then purchased by behavioral.”
Freeman said there’s nothing in the zoning code that discusses that or would trigger this issue.
“I disagreed with Scott and we sent it to the lawyer,” Freeman said.
Freeman continued by saying that he is disturbed that he doesn’t know what the use will be.
“There is a need for these sorts of things, but I feel like this one really creeped up on us and I don’t appreciate the fact that it was brought to us in this way. And I really don’t appreciate the fact that I’m getting six different answers for a single question. And that leads me to not trust,” he said.
He added, “At the end of the day, we have to consider all of the community. For crying out loud, couldn’t you have talked to us? Couldn’t you have come to the trustees? There should have been public meetings on this.”
Residents voice various concerns
Longhauster said her concern is over the relapse rate.
“More than likely, the people who are going to live there are going to have a criminal background,” she added.
Resident Terry Mcmillan, who lives on Logan Landing, said she is also concerned about the property directly next to the planned recovery center that she said, “they are working on.”
“We don’t know for sure,” she said. “We’re kinda curious if that’s going be another one. I live in this area, too, and I know any one of yous [speaking to the trustees] would not want this in your backyard or directly with your kids.”
Mcmillan added, “This is not the neighborhood we all grew up in. I realize they need help and places to go, but I think there’s other places they could go other than a neighborhood area.”
That’s not where we want to be, Allen said, where people are moving out of the township because of this.
“We are not providing any services in that building and no one has paid into that building,” Steven Goldsberry, the vice president of addiction services with GCB, said at the meeting. “They will likely be in treatment over in Batavia. They will be in recovery.”
Goldsberry said he agreed that they probably should done this differently.
“But it wasn’t like this was done underground. We’ve been working on this for years,” he said. “There is not going to be any hired staff there. All the people will be associated with our agency. The idea was, people need a safe place to be for a period of time. This is permanent housing for them, if they choose to stay there. I would actually like a chance to prove we could do this without threatening the neighborhood.”
“I was told three times that that house would be supervised; three times, two different people and now you’re telling me it’s not going to be,” Longhauster asked Goldsberry. “Where is the truth?”
Goldsberry said there will be a manager of the home, but who doesn’t actually live there.
Kristina Hoesada, a resident who lives near the home, is a single mother with a six-year-old.
“I am vulnerable,” she said. “You have no idea. I am so scared and terrified of what would happen. Can you guarantee my child’s safety?”
She added, “Do you have a little child? I want to help them, too, trust me, but anything can happen to me, I don’t care, but my six-year-old. She loves karate, but…”
After the meeting, Goldsberry said he’s not unsympathetic to what people are saying.
“There was due diligence,” he said.
Christian sees it as his duty to help
One of only two voices of support for the recovery home came from David Sprouse, a resident.
“I know I’m of minority opinion here, but I believe this is a very serious issue,” he said. “It’s getting worse. I think it’s time we work with the Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Services, work with you, do something to solve this, rather than always saying, ‘Not in my backyard.’ They need support.”
He added, “Those who are saying, ‘I want to recover,’ need a place to do that, where they’re healthy, where they’re not – I don’t know how many we got sleeping in tents on Beechmont [Avenue]. I know that because I’m working with some of them.”
It’s a step in the right direction, Sprouse said.
“We are not helping them by just saying, “‘Not here, not in my backyard,'” he said.
“This is in my backyard, I’m dealing with this first-hand,” Longhauster retorted.
After the meeting, Sprouce said the last three years, he’s been working with the homeless.
“You get to know them,” he said, adding that most of them are on heroin.
Sprouce said he’s working with a man, who “got so excited about this facility.”
“He’s working hard to try to stop,” Sprouce said, noting that the man hadn’t used heroin since September of last year. “There’s a sense to me he’s committed.”
Sprouce said he thinks the response to the home is blown out of proportion.
“I’m more scared of these folks,” he said, referring to the residents at the meeting. “I’m Christian and that’s what it’s about for me. I think that’s what He’s calling me to do.”