WESTBROOK — The RISE Project has pulled out of Westbrook after its planned State Street group home failed an inspection for an occupancy permit.
The RISE Project, a group home for former juvenile offenders from Long Creek Youth Development Center, was planned for 6 State St. Several code violations were found during an April 5 inspection at the home, a joint project between the Opportunity Alliance and the Maine Department of Corrections.
Occurring simultaneously with the inspection was the City Council’s approval of new zoning definitions covering group and boarding homes. The zoning change states that group homes are only allowed along the City Center District, essentially along Main Street.
If the home had passed inspection, it would have been grandfathered under the previous zoning code, meaning it could move forward on State Street, a residential neighborhood. Because it didn’t receive a certificate of occupancy, the home became subject to the zoning change.
The Opportunity Alliance on April 7 notified the city that it wouldn’t be filing an appeal.
The Opportunity Alliance entered a purchase and sales agreement on the house in December for $310,000, but Mike Tarpinian, the president and CEO, on Tuesday said the project will be relocated.
“We’ve decided to look for a home in another community,” he said. “We’re looking as quickly as possible.”
Colin O’Neill, the associate commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the project.
Resident Matt Barker, who lives at 20 State St. and had opposed the project, said he hopes the Opportunity Alliance and the DOC find a more suitable location for the project.
“I’m glad that they’ll continue with RISE Project moving forward successfully in another neighborhood,” he said.
According to a letter from City Fire Inspector Michael Corey, code violations in the home included an insufficient sprinkler system, non-compliant smoke detectors, a lack of carbon monoxide detectors and emergency lighting, and unmarked exits, among other things.
The RISE Project had caused a stir in the State Street neighborhood and residents said they’re happy to hear the project won’t be located on their street. Many people were concerned about the men in the group home re-offending and causing trouble in their neighborhood.
Barker said he and the other neighbors have been “brought closer together” by the issue and that they’re very pleased the project has left town.
“I’m happy because I’m still firmly of the belief that a project like this shouldn’t be in a small neighborhood,” he said.
Aside from a perceived threat of danger, neighbors were also upset about the way the project was communicated to them. Many residents said they didn’t appreciate the lack of transparency about the project from the Opportunity Alliance.
Barker said he thinks the project has good intentions, but could have been communicated sooner and stronger to the neighbors.
“I think Opportunity Alliance is a good organization,” he said. “I think they misstepped in this situation.”
Tarpinian didn’t comment on the process in Westbrook and said the Opportunity Alliance is currently focusing on moving forward and on getting the youth at Long Creek back into society.
Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.
The RISE Project, a group home for former youth offenders from Long Creek Youth Development Center, will no longer pursue a planned State Street location.