Wednesday night, about 75 Waterford residents gathered in the Waterford Public Library to discuss their opposition to a proposal by the Stonington Institute to turn 171 Rope Ferry Road into a temporary home for up to 144 adult men who are recovering from drug addictions.
“My message is I do have sympathy, but this is not the right location for this kind of facility,” said David Peabody, who lives on Spithead Road near 171 Rope Ferry Road and organized the meeting.
171 Rope Ferry Road was a nursing home for more than 40 years, although it has sat vacant for the past two years. The Stonington Institute is asking the Waterford Zoning Board of Appeals to change the allowed use at the property to allow for a facility that would provide temporary housing for men recovering from drug addictions.
The property sits in a residential neighborhood, across the street from St. Paul in Chains Rectory, near several youth fields and a boy scout post and less than two miles from the Dual Language & Arts Magnet Middle School. The residents at the meeting argued the facility should be put either in a heavily commercial area or in a rural area away from children.
“It is not that people are against the concept of the facility, it is people are against the location of the facility,” said Thomas Collier, a land-use attorney who lives at 201 Rope Ferry Road and went to the meeting to oppose the proposal.
The Stonington Institute provides health treatment services to people fighting drug addictions, including veterans. Its main campus is in North Stonington and it provides room and board to adults receiving outpatient services at 13 sober houses in southeastern Connecticut, including one in Waterford, according to an application written by attorney Thomas Londregan.
The Stonington Institute is proposing to turn 171 Rope Ferry Road into a temporary home for up to 144 adult men who are “actively receiving outpatient services for a primary substance abuse diagnosis at a Clinic,” according to the application. The men would be housed in 72 rooms, with each room having two beds for two men, according to the application.
The average stay for somebody at the facility would be 30 days, and staff will be checking on the men once every 30 minutes throughout the day and night, according to the application. The men would not be allowed to have vehicles at the facility, and they would be able to have guests visit on Saturdays and have supervised visitations on Sundays, according to the application.
The proposed use is not allowed in the zone. In the application, Londregan argues the proposal will “not impair the essential existing character of the area nor conflict with the general purpose and intent of the Town’s Zoning Regulations.” He said the proposed use would not cause any more traffic than what the other allowed uses would cause, would not cause any more noise or pollution and would not increase the strain on the town’s police or fire services – something many residents disagreed with.
“The parcel has been a nursing home for over 40 years and the proposed use is similar enough to not impact the character of the neighborhood in any substantially different way,” Londregan wrote. “Approving the use will result in interior/exterior aesthetic and Life Safety improvements that will improve the obvious disrepair associated with the current parcel and generate additional tax revenues for the Town.”
A receptionist at the Stonington Institute said the CEO of the institute would return a call to Patch today about the proposal.
Residents disagreed with nearly everything Londregan wrote explaining the need for the use change. Londregan has to prove a true hardship to warrant a change in use, when many said there are many uses allowed in the zone that are possible, he has to prove that the change of use will have no increased impact on fire or police services and not hurt property values, when residents argued it will increase the strain on fire and police services and hurt property values, and he has to prove that it keeps in-character with the neighborhood, when neighbors argued a place like that would not fit in a residential neighborhood.
“Legally, I’d be shocked if it was approved,” Collier said.
Residents were worried that the men would leave the facility and burglarize homes to pay for drugs to fuel their addictions. Fundamentally, they said the facility will bring in unstable men into a high-traffic, residential neighborhood filled with children.
“Waterford has always done a great job in separating commercial businesses and properties from their residential family neighborhoods and that is why I am completely surprised that we would consider putting a facility like this in a neighborhood where children live and play,” Toni Maynard of 186 Rope Ferry Road wrote in a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals. “I am not opposed to providing this service to those who need it, but I DO NOT believe it belongs in a quiet neighborhood directly across the street and next door to where families live.”
The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a public hearing tonight on the proposal. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium at 15 Rope Ferry Road.