UPDATE: Proposed Berlin Recovery House Effort Slowed With Zoning Appeal Withdrawn

UPDATE: Proposed Berlin Recovery House Effort Slowed With Zoning Appeal Withdrawn
Hope4Recovery has moved on beyond former plans to make this home on William Street a recovery home for addicts. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – A board of appeals hearing regarding a potential recovery house in Berlin has been canceled.

Following presentations in front of the Berlin Town Council and the Worcester County Board of Education, connections of Hope4Recovery were expected to meet with Berlin’s board of zoning appeals April 4 regarding their plan to establish a sober living home on William Street. Town officials said Thursday morning the board of appeals hearing would not take place.

“They’ve withdrawn their appeal,” said Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director.

Last week, representatives of Hope4Recovery shared their plans to turn a William Street home into a sober living facility. Tish Ottey, an Ocean Pines Police detective, told the council she’d opened the Douglas K. Hamilton House for Recovery in Salisbury and that the Hope4Recovery organization wanted to do something similar in Berlin.

Council members encouraged Ottey to get input from the school board, as the William Street property is close to Berlin Intermediate School, and to talk with the property’s neighbors about the proposed recovery house. They pointed out that the decision of whether or not the home would be permitted would be up to the board of appeals, as the town’s code had no provision allowing group homes in the residential district.

According to Carrie Sterrs, the school system’s coordinator of public relations and special programs, the school board met with Hope4Recovery in a closed meeting Tuesday.

“The Worcester County Board of Education heard a presentation from Hope4Recovery during its closed session, as the issue was presented to the board as one of school safety,” Sterrs said. “The Board of Education expressed its support of the important work Hope4Recovery performs while also expressing the concerns they have heard from their constituents regarding the potential location. The board did not take any formal action on this matter, as any decision making regarding this proposal lies with the government of the Town of Berlin.”

During the school board’s open session meeting Tuesday afternoon, William Street resident Ray Zalewski told the board he had concerns about the proposal, which he wasn’t aware of until he read about it in the newspaper.

“The addiction problem in this country is something terrible but the relapse problem is the real issue,” Zalewski said.

He said research showed that a very small percentage of those dealing with addiction remained sober after six months. He’s concerned that relapses will occur at the Berlin recovery house. Zalewski said that when he’d researched sober homes online after learning of the one proposed in Berlin, he’d found that common complaints from neighbors included loitering and littering, among other things.

Zalewski told the board he’d been invited to a meet and greet with Hope4Recovery on Monday but hadn’t been reassured. He said he’d been told there that residents in the recovery home would be drug tested four times a week, something he considered a problem because some drugs were undetectable in less than 24 hours. He praised the organization for its desire to help those dealing with addiction but said a home near a school was not the appropriate place for such a facility.

“Hope4Recovery cannot provide the neighbors and the school any assurance that the residents will not be loitering, that vehicles will not be parked along the curb, hindering bus traffic, that there will be no interaction with the children, that the children will not observe any inappropriate behavior, including foul language, and that residents will observe the town’s rules and ordinances,” he said.

School board member Eric Cropper told Zalewski he appreciated his input on the potential recovery house.

“It’s something we’re definitely watching and discussing,” Cropper said. “At this point it’s a town issue.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.