December 17, 2012

Cluster of recovery homes raises concerns in Portland neighborhood

The city says Foundation House's four facilities for recovering addicts meet zoning rules, but neighbors fear further expansion.

By Randy Billings rbillings@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – The recent expansion of a substance abuse recovery group in Parkside has some residents concerned about the future of their neighborhood.

click image to enlarge

This building at 42 Mellen Street is one of four buildings in Portland's Parkside neighborhood that have been bought by Foundation House, which plans to use them for residential substance abuse recovery programs. Photographed on Friday, December 14, 2012.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

This building at 40 Deering Street is one of four buildings in Portland's Parkside neighborhood that have been bought by Foundation House, which plans to use them for residential substance abuse recovery programs. Photographed on Friday, December 14, 2012.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Foundation House operates four houses within a one-block radius for people who are trying to live sober lives. The houses are at 42 Mellen St., 235 State St., 38 Deering St. and 40 Deering St.

The two properties on Deering Street were purchased within the last two years, and residents are concerned that Foundation House plans to buy more homes in the area, changing the fabric of their neighborhood.

Residents contested Foundation House's use of its properties to city officials, arguing that the homes were being used as sheltered-care homes. Such homes are allowed in the residential zone under certain conditions, including a requirement that they be at least 500 feet from one another.

"A neighborhood can tip either direction very, very quickly," said Robert Giovannini of Deering Street. "Everybody has worked hard to make this solid, wonderful neighborhood very diverse, and I don't want to see that undermined because the code is being used incorrectly."

City officials ruled that the homes' use falls within the zoning code.

The city defines a sheltered-care home as "a facility which, in addition to providing food and shelter to a defined population, provides guidance or counseling services. Such services are the primary function of the facility."

Zoning Administrator Marge Schmuckal ruled in October that the homes did not meet that definition, because food is not provided to residents and most of the counseling is done on the third floor of the State Theatre building on Congress Street.

Schmuckal wrote that 38 Deering St. is still considered a single-family home, even though Foundation House uses it as its business address. And 40 Deering St. is being used as a lodging house, but needs upgrades to meet city codes, she wrote.

Under the city code, a single-family can house as many as 16 unrelated people.

Seven Parkside residents appealed the city's ruling, but the Zoning Board of Appeals upheld it on Dec. 6.

The Parkside Neighborhood Association supported the appeal as a way to learn more about Foundation House, said the association's president, Emma Holder.

Foundation House founder Patrick Babcock declined to talk about his organization or the homes. Instead, he referred a reporter to the group's website.

According to the website, Foundation House, which opened in 2002 and is owned by PK Holdings Inc., is "an industry leading, extended care sober living program." It promises a "high dignity and no drama" environment for recovery.

"All of our facilities are located within a block of each other, right in the heart of Portland, Maine," a brochure says.

Foundation House, a member of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, provides a 12-step recovery program based on Buddhist principles and offers a variety of team-based activities, it says.

It claims that, since 2002, 90 percent of the men have stayed sober while living in its facilities.

Parkside residents say they are less concerned about the people who stay in the homes or the way the homes are run than they are about the number of homes within a block of each other.

"It appears to us that Foundation House has carefully structured its operations to avoid the city's policy intent, which was both to preserve single-family housing stock and to avoid clustering of transitional housing by distributing housing uses throughout the city," the residents said in their appeal.

Giovannini, one of the appellants, said he also is concerned that the homes are not appropriately labeled according to their use.

"It's a treatment facility but it's not labeled as such," he said. "We have the Serenity House, and they don't pretend to be anything other than what they are."

(Continued on page 2)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

This building at 38 Deering Street is one of four buildings in Portland's Parkside neighborhood that have been bought by Foundation House, which plans to use them for residential substance abuse recovery programs. Photographed on Friday, December 14, 2012.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

This building at 235 State Street is one of four buildings in Portland's Parkside neighborhood that have been bought by Foundation House, which plans to use them for residential substance abuse recovery programs. Photographed on Friday, December 14, 2012.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

 


Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)