Neighbors’ concerns prompt meeting on group home

The Opportunity Alliance will be holding a meeting March 21 to address residents' concerns about Project RISE, a group home at 6 State St. for young men transitioning out of Long Creek Youth Development Center.

WESTBROOK —  After hearing concerns and complaints from State Street neighbors, the Opportunity Alliance will hold a community meeting on March 21 to discuss its plan to house former juvenile offenders at a group home there.

Neighbors living near the project, located at 6 State St., say they’re frustrated about the lack of communication so far. Project RISE, a joint project between The Opportunity Alliance and the Maine Department of Corrections, will house youth transitioning out of the Long Creek Youth Development Center.

“Moving something like this into our neighborhood could have been handled a lot better,” said resident Matt Barker, of 20 State St. “We’ve basically been bullied into accepting this.”

The Opportunity Alliance bought the house in December for $310,000, according to online real estate records. The 2,183 square-foot house, which has four bedrooms, will house six men ages 18-21 and will be staffed 24 hours a day. An opening date has not been set yet.

The March 21 meeting has been scheduled to address neighbors’ concerns, Jim Gemmell, vice president of communications for the Opportunity Alliance, said on Wednesday. The meeting will be from 6-7 p.m. at the Seventh-Day Adventists Church at 479 Main St. Another meeting has been scheduled for April 11 as well, but a location has not been announced.

Last month Gemmell told the American Journal the organization had already been meeting with State Street residents to discuss the project and had received a favorable response. Neighbors say this isn’t true. Gemmell on Wednesday said he was misquoted in that article. American Journal Executive Editor Mo Mehlsak said the paper stands by its story.

Barker said he first received a letter Dec. 22 that “told us this is what they’re doing,” and received a second mailing in January. Resident Terri Peasley, of 9 State St., said she didn’t receive notification until Jan. 5, and that the Opportunity Alliance “certainly haven’t met with any of the immediate neighboring homes.”

Gemmell said the Opportunity Alliance sent notices to 250 homes within 500 feet of the project at the beginning of February. He said the organization plans to go door-to-door “in the coming weeks” as another method of notifying neighbors.

Dustin Sleight, who lives next to the Project RISE building, spoke at the March 6 City Council meeting during public comment period and said he was concerned about the project. He said he has received no notice from the Opportunity Alliance and found out about the project by reading about it in the newspaper.

“In my personal experience I haven’t been contacted,” Sleight told councilors.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said he’s concerned that neighbors haven’t been properly notified of the project. Jennie Franceschi, the director of planning and code enforcement, said the organization had no obligation to notify neighbors because the project is a permitted use.

There are currently no standards for group homes in the city’s ordinance, although councilors did take first steps towards this on March 6. The council scheduled an April 3 public hearing on an ordinance amendment to define and regulate group and boarding homes. 

Franceschi said Project RISE falls under the term “single-family home” and isn’t considered a group home under current standards. She said although it’s a business, it is set up similar to a rental home, meaning there was no need for the Opportunity Alliance to receive Planning Board review and approval.

Sleight said he thinks it’s important to have programs that help formerly convicted people transition successfully back into society, but “on the other hand, it’s daunting not knowing what to expect.”

Barker agreed that he wants more information about what to expect from Project RISE.

“Who’s making the judgment call on who’s coming in here?” he said. “What are the metrics for success? There’s a lot of information that they haven’t even thought of providing us.”

Gemmell said neighbors will be provided with this information at the March 21 and April 11 meetings. He declined to discuss that information with the American Journal on Wednesday.

Gemmell also wouldn’t address neighbors’ concerns about safety with the American Journal. 

“We’re a human services agency, we’re not a public relations agency,” Gemmell said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Barker said he’s worried by the lack of guarantee that his neighborhood will remain safe.

“Not all of these kids will be a success story,” he said. “That’s the cold truth.” 

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

The Opportunity Alliance will be holding a meeting March 21 to address residents’ concerns about Project RISE, a group home at 6 State St. for young men transitioning out of Long Creek Youth Development Center.