Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meetings rarely take place before much of an audience, but April’s gathering in Berlin would have likely been well attended.
On Berlin BZA’s agenda for the April 4 meeting was a proposed recovery house on William Street near Berlin Intermediate School. Hope4Recovery, a well-intended organization operating a similar facility in Salisbury, would like to transform the small home into a facility where recovery addicts can get back on their feet and transition to independent living. Representatives came before the Berlin Town Council earlier this month and met with the Worcester County Board of Education in a closed meeting on Tuesday. On Thursday, the town was informed the zoning appeal had been withdrawn. It’s unclear at this point if that means a new location is being sought or if the effort simply needs more time.
This week’s presentation before the school board was held behind closed doors because it involved school safety, according to the school system. While that presentation never should have occurred in private, our concern is why the school board chose to not take a position on the matter. Rather than simply sending a letter to the BZA expressing obvious site concerns, the board decided it would not “take any formal action on the matter as any decision making regarding this proposal lies with the government of the Town of Berlin.”
Taking no position on a potential recovery house being adjacent to a school makes little sense, especially when it comes on the same day as Superintendent Lou Taylor delivered an emotional speech about student safety being the school system’s top priority.
Though the school system’s opinion clearly would have been appropriate, it’s important to note recovery houses, also known as halfway houses in some areas, serve a crucial role in the addiction process. It’s a major step for these individuals trying to start a healthier and more productive chapter in life.
This area would benefit from having more of these types of options available for individuals in recovery. Oftentimes, it’s not a safe and healthy environment for people to return to their families immediately after leaving a treatment facility. These recovery houses serve as a respite facility helping them to continue their growth and typically break of cycle that has compounded their addiction in the past. These are hugely valuable facilities because of their structure-based operations, but they need to be in the correct locations. Next to a high-volume intermediate school is not the best site.
In a day when school security is chief among parent, teacher and student concerns, it would seem maintaining safe grounds around a school should also be a focal point. These individuals who may live in the recovery house for a stint are not dangerous, but they are in recovery and in a sensitive transition. They are vulnerable. With this critical evolution can come slipups in judgment as they look to re-enter society. Financial strain is often a major part of this process. We can foresee some unfortunate situations when casual conversations with student pedestrians could be perceived as poor intentions.
Recovery houses have a future in our area and we earnestly support Hope4Recovery’s efforts, but they must be situated in locations where they are not counter productive to the community at large.