Bradley House neighbors want more notice as renovation plans move forward

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BRATTLEBORO >> Neighbors not made aware of proposed Bradley House renovations during early planning stages made their frustration known at a meeting Tuesday night.

"This is a residential neighborhood. It is not Western Avenue," said Dr. Jeanie Crosby, who lives across the street from Bradley House. "We knew nothing except that there was discussion over probably six months that there might be expansion. The warning of the public hearing was in the newspaper, which most of us do not subscribe to anymore. But I was lucky enough to read the Select Board agenda on iBrattleboro on Saturday."

Bradley House officials are looking to add seven units to their residential care facility on Harris Avenue in Brattleboro. A grant application, to soon be sent to the Vermont Community Development Program with town support, sparked conversation between parties.

Crosby said she believed planners "lost their way" when they did not alert abutters and residents living in the area sooner. Although a letter about the project was delivered to her the day before, she had concerns about a section explaining input would be sought when plans were being finalized.

Janet Brocklehurst, who lives near the facility, said she and her partner were "incredibly surprised" to learn about the project "being so far advanced" but had not heard anything about it. The project was creating a feeling of anxiety, she told the Select Board, rather than transparency.

"We're particularly concerned with issues about the noise that will go on, the traffic implications and so on that affect us even if we're not abutters. I think we would like to have some more input and knowledge about that. It's a quiet residential neighborhood. A lot of people are over 60," Brocklehurst said. "We also have young children on the street. There are lots of dog walkers and it's a recommended walking path in town."

Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland explained the board was being asked to adopt a resolution that provides town administration with the authority to submit a grant application in which $457,000 was being sought from the VCDP. Minutes from the public hearing, opened during the board meeting, will be included in the document along with any written comments received by the town.

It's likely the application would be submitted on April 4, according to Moreland. Passing the resolution on Tuesday was "imperative" to seeing the project move along on time, he said. Applications are expected to be considered in June.

The board held off on making a decision on a second request for a $50,000 grant from the town's Program Income Fund which holds funds associated with the VCDP among other grant programs. The state would need to approve of the VCDP grant before the town pays out.

"There are many steps going forward to have the development proceed and to address the concerns," said Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein, who wanted to see more language in the request for program income.

Planning Director Rod Francis said the project is on the Development Review Boards' March 21 agenda for a sketch-plan review, a feature of the newly adopted land use regulations that does not require abutter notification or a warning published in newspapers.

"It's an opportunity for the community to be made aware of the project and for the applicants to outline in broad terms before things are finalized," he said.

Approvals of the group's site plan and amendments to its planned unit development will be required after the sketch plan. Abutters are notified when those hearings are held.

Over the last 10 years or so, the Bradley House "suffered from deferred maintenance and staff turnover at the administrator level," Moreland stated in a memo, noting that "the mansion is antiquated with leaky windows, an old steam central heating system, narrow hallways and small shared bathrooms, many of which are not handicapped accessible." Then in 2015, the Bradley House board asked for a hand from Holton Home, another Level 3 Residential Care Home in Brattleboro.

Cindy Jerome, executive director at Holton Home, became executive director at Bradley House six months ago after the organizations merged.

"Bradley House is really suffering," said Jerome, bringing up issues involving life safety and poor energy efficiency. "This isn't something at Bradley House that we can spread out over many years."

Jerome apologized for not making neighbors aware of the project earlier, saying she did not have all the names and addresses of people living nearby.

"We very much want to be good neighbors," said Andy Reichsman, Holton Home treasurer and board member. "I would say we welcome your comments."

Altogether, the renovations are estimated to cost $5 million. Besides borrowing around $3 million, the grant along with fundraising and use of capital reserves is expected to help achieve their goals in short order. The plan calls for expanding the capacity to come to a total of 35 rooms.

The rooms fill "very rapidly," said Jerome, making a point about Vermont having one of the fastest growing elderly population in the United States. As soon as rooms were ready, she anticipated they'd be occupied.

"And these are modest rooms. We're not doing anything fancy," said Jerome. "But replacing the electrical system and the plumbing system and throwing insulation into the old mansion, there's so much to be done."

A report called "Shaping the Future of Long Term Care 2007-2017" from the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, mentioned in Moreland's memo, anticipates a need for about 90 additional units of assisted living or residential care in Brattleboro by 2018.

The project is seen as a strong fit with Brattleboro's Town Plan, the Windham Regional Plan and the state's plan around housing. That is the criteria which the town is supposed to look at before deciding whether to support a grant application like Bradley House's.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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