Phoenix House expansion raises concern

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BELLOWS FALLS — A plan by Phoenix House to buy two residential care homes and convert them to sober houses for addicts has residents seeking more information.

Edgar Greason of Manchester is closing two homes he owns at 99 Atkinson Street and 36 Williams Street, and plans on selling them to Phoenix House, which has operated a similar home at 11 Underhill Avenue for the past 10 years, leasing the building from Greason as well.

Greason operated Country Village Community Care Home at 99 Atkinson Street, and it was slated to close July 1.

But according to Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright, about a dozen residents have contacted her or other trustees to voice concern about the plan — mostly because of the lack of information. Wright said she couldn't take a stand about the project since any appeal could end up in front of the board of trustees.

"I don't want to do the NIMBY (not in my backyard) thing," said Wright. "I just want people to feel safe in their neighborhoods. You wouldn't put a prison next to a daycare center or a school."

"It's the unknown," she said, that is bothering people. Phoenix House would buy the Underhill location from Greason, as well as the large house at 99 Atkinson and a smaller home at 36 Williams, which is directly in back of the Atkinson Street building, which operated under the name Country Village Community Care Home. It was licensed for 24 residents.

Greason had announced earlier this year that he would be closing the two facilities. His announcement came shortly after one of the residents of 99 Atkinson Street was found dead of exposure near Springfield Hospital. At the time, Greason said his decision was unrelated to the death of Neale Gilson, 69.

Rockingham Zoning Administrator Chuck Wise has issued a letter to Phoenix House stating that the two facilities as currently envisioned would not need a new zoning permit.

"As proposed, there are slight changes to the residential care home model for these properties based upon the Phoenix House mission/services," Wise wrote in a letter dated June 26 and addressed to Pete Mumma of Phoenix House.

Under the town's zoning bylaws, he said there are no changes "that would alter zoning compliance."

"Therefore, Phoenix House can operate all three properties in full compliance with the Rockingham Zoning bylaws without additional zoning permits," he wrote.

Darren Lenois lives across Williams Street from the proposed Phoenix House on Williams Street. He said he simply wants additional information about the Phoenix plans.

"Nobody's telling us anything," he said, nothing that he and other neighbors were concerned. "It's a depressed town and area. I pay taxes, I feel I'm left out of the loop."

"The Phoenix House hasn't stepped up to the community. I'm not against an addictions facility," he said. "I'm not opposed but I need more information."

He said the two sites have been very busy in recent weeks with contractors visiting the property, as well as people he identified as appraisers and inspectors. So far, no construction has started.

"Phoenix needs to start making good neighbors," said Lenois.

Lenois said he was concerned about having a group of addicts living in the neighborhood. He has a young daughter that he is concerned about.

"I'm not the most educated guy to raise a red flag," he said.

According to information sent to the town by Mumma, Phoenix House hoped to close on the purchase of the three buildings on July 10. But Rockiingham Town Clerk Kathleen Neathawk said Thursday nothing had been filed with her office. Mumma said the Phoenix House would have "essentially the same use" as Greason's facility.

Wright said she and her husband had hired residents of the Underhill Avenue Phoenix House for their business, Green Mountain Traffic Control, with some success.

"I don't have a lot of success stories from there. But we help them keep their noses clean and get them to their meetings and help them keep a job," she said.

Mumma did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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