Friday, January 13, 2017

Springfield board takes action on rooming houses

Happenings in and around Springfield VT's post.

SPRINGFIELD — Nola Watkins Chase made a personal plea Thursday to the Springfield Select Board for the town take action to regulate rooming houses, or so-called sober houses.

Watkins Chase said her 31-year-old son has been living in one of the rooming houses owned and operated by William Hunter of Weathersfield, became exposed to people dealing heroin and was now addicted to it.

Chase said Hunter thought he was doing addicts and those suffering from substance abuse a kindness by offering them low-cost housing. But in the case of her son, she said, his actions enabled him and his worsening addiction, and prevented him from going into rehab.

By living in the rooming house, she said, he was getting worse.

After the meeting — and a successful vote by the board — Watkins Chase said Hunter had not charged her son any rent in the rooming house for close to a year, further enabling him.

Also, she said, the house where he lives “has black mold all over the place,” and “water running through the roof,” and she questioned whether the town or state was inspecting the rooming houses.

The topic of whether and how the town should regulate the town’s proliferating rooming homes under zoning rules has been under debate for months.

With the 5-0 vote Thursday night, the new zoning ordinance takes effect in 21 days. Existing rooming houses have two years to apply for a town zoning permit, according to Town Attorney Stephen Ankuda.

Selectman Peter MacGillivray said he viewed two of Hunter’s rooming houses in North Springfield, and saw “trash all over the place.”

“It’s a scab in an otherwise nice neighborhood,” MacGillivray said, noting Hunter had promised at other meetings to be a “good neighbor.”

Under the zoning change, rooming houses are classified conditional use in many zoning districts, including high-density and medium-density areas, as well as general business zoning districts. They will also be subject to site plan review.

Selectman George McNaughton had drafted a series of findings of fact, and fellow board members concluded that “this type of housing has issues with present special health and safety concerns” and warrant regulation.

Also, the findings found unregulated rooming houses presented “the potential for spreading blight and changing the character of neighborhoods” by overcrowding people into buildings.

Lori Claffee, president of the Park Union Neighborhood Association, also urged the board to act, and not to further weaken the proposed ordinance.

Claffee noted the issue had already been the subject of six public hearings.

The move by the Select Board comes despite continuing concerns raised by Vermont Legal Aid and by Hunter himself. Town Zoning Administrator Bill Kearns asked Legal Aid to detail its objections to the zoning change.

Jacob Speidel, staff attorney with the Legal Aid office in Springfield, said the original ordinance discriminated against people with mental health handicaps, although he said the changes the Select Board had already agreed to were a step in the right direction. Speidel said that the federal Fair Housing Act was designed to protect people with mental health issues. He said the town should go after the problems at existing rooming houses, such as the mounting complaints about garbage and debris around the buildings and on porches, through the nuisance ordinance.

Rutland Herald

No comments:

Post a Comment