Thursday, May 17, 2018

Columbia to get recovery house. Who knew? Just a few!

747-749 Walnut Street, soon to be a recovery house

The notice alerting residents to the proposed facility at 747-749 Walnut Street

Columbia will be getting a recovery house at 747-749 Walnut Street, to the surprise and dismay of many neighbors and borough officials. According to several councillors, the borough first caught wind of the project last Tuesday or Wednesday, and neighbors found out Thursday morning when they received an anonymous typed notice that was later posted on Facebook. Columbia Spy first heard about the project at last Wednesday's safety committee meeting when Police Chief Jack Brommer asked Zoning and Planning Officer Jeff Helm about it.

Chris Dreisbach, founder and CEO of "Blueprints for Addiction Recovery"

According to the Lancaster County Office of the Recorder of Deeds, a deed for the property was recorded on April 10, 2018 under the name "Blueprints for Addiction Recovery" of which Christopher Dreisbach is the founder of CEO. At Monday's council meeting, Dreisbach stated that he discussed the property with Helm "the second I bought the building." Assuming Dreisbach is correct, residents and borough officials were kept in the dark for about a month.

747 Walnut, currently under renovation

It wasn't just lack of notification that many found disturbing, however. Residents of the 700 block of Walnut Street were also concerned about potential problems with occupants of the recovery house. A dozen or so residents attended Monday's borough council meeting to voice their concerns.

One resident was perturbed about the lack of information available, among other issues. “We came here blind tonight,” she said. She also told council that pushers in the area will try to get occupants hooked again and that the facility would decrease property values and possibly increase crime in the neighborhood. Another resident concurred: “You are setting these people up to fail. We have dealers on our street.” She said dealers operating in the alley behind the house are going to "hit them."

Still another resident said, “We were never informed that this was coming into our neighborhood. We had no say.  As a taxpayer, I feel that we should have had some input into agreeing to have this into our block. We already have two facilities for this. I understand there’s one up on 14th Street. Why do we need a third?” She cited a recent WGAL report on the opioid crisis which stated that Lancaster is the number one area of concern, with Columbia being number two.  Residents were also concerned about the safety of children in the area, noting that the neighborhood is close to an elementary school, and high school students walk that block on their way home. Councillor Todd Burgard added that, according to the organization "American Addiction Centers," 40-60% of those who have completed some kind of addiction program relapse.

Despite the concerns, Dreisbach defended his program by pointing out its value to those in need. “This will be the next step back towards living life,” he said. Although he couldn't guarantee there won’t be any relapses, he said, “These people are people who are going to be trying to better their lives.”

Dreisbach explained that his organization is associated with "A New Life LLC," which houses residents at a building at 228-230 Cherry Street. He described "Blueprints" as apartment-style living for people with disabilities, those being drug addiction and alcoholism. Specifically, the facility is for people who have already completed a treatment program, to afford them more tools and advantages as they move forward. He said the program is licensed through the PA Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.

He noted that the typical turnover for residents is 30 to 60 days, although some have stayed longer. He also told those present that the Cherry Street facility has operated for four and a half years without any issues. He added that Columbia is the only municipality where his organization has buildings.

The Walnut Street facility will be strictly for women. Dreisbach said the rent ($125 a week, everything included) will be paid for out-of-pocket or with scholarships from non profits. Dreisbach said he is funding costs of the building and the program himself and is taking nothing from taxpayers.

Dumpster permit, dated April 23, 2018

Unfortunately, three current tenants of the building will be displaced to accommodate the needs of the program. Dreisbach said that on May 1, he gave them a 90-day notice, more than the 30 days stipulated in the lease from the previous landlord. He promised help for them to relocate, if needed. He said the Federal Fair Housing Act allows his organization to provide for people with disabilities.

Dreisbach explained that residents must adhere to a “pre-comprehensive 64-point plan,” which includes getting involved with a recovery program outside of treatment, going to meetings, and working on obtaining employment.

The building's layout will include a common area, to be made from an existing apartment, leaving five efficiency apartments, with two residents per unit. The facility will also include recovery support staff, typically those who have been sober for awhile. Support staff won’t live on site but will be available there 16 hours a day and will provide transportation. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., residents will be out of the building, since they will be bused to a treatment site. There will be a strict curfew of 10 p.m. He plans to build a privacy fence so that neighbors won’t be disturbed.

Earlier in the meeting, Helm had explained that the building will not include treatment or counseling facilities, or any other on-site mentoring. “This is purely a residential apartment building similar to what it was in the past 20 years,” Helm said, and that there will be no zoning regulation changes.  Nothing will change other than the individuals occupying the building, Helm asserted.

Despite several concerns, three borough residents defended the program. One, a neighbor of the Cherry Street facility, said he has had no problems with residents there and that he has found no paraphernalia such as liquor bottles and needles. Another resident, who lives on Plane Street, said she had lived in the Cherry Street house and that through the program she had "learned how to better her life." She asked residents to “open their minds about it.” A Perry Street resident said she would welcome the facility in her neighborhood.

Dreisbach also defended the facility against the charge that it will hurt property values.  “I can tell you with absolute certainty that property values are only damaged here by school taxes. As a real estate agent, I know this, hands down." He said that through his program blighted properties will be  improved. "The properties that we can take are only going to add to the value of the area.”

Another view of 747-749, with dumpster out front

Councillor Cleon Berntheizel said, "Council can’t do anything about this particular place. The debate right now is whether it’s a business or still a residence. Codes will have to decide that. Council can’t decide that." Helm stated that it is a business, "a self-managed business." A Chestnut Street resident noted that at last week's safety meeting, she was told the facility will not be supervised. "Tonight I’m hearing it is going to be supervised,” she said.

Mayor Leo Lutz told Dreisbach, "Theres a place for everything, and my thoughts are this is not the place. If you choose to do this, I can say to you that you will be under the microscope, with police and code-wise.” He also explained to those in attendance why residents were kept in the dark. "We didn’t know about this," he said. "The reason for that was there’s no zoning violation, because it’s an empty building being rehabbed. Until something happens that’s contrary to borough code or zoning, we don’t have an issue, so we didn’t hear about it. Should it have happened differently? You bet your ass it should have happened differently.”

Several residents pointed blame at Helm for leaving them in the dark. One exasperated resident pointed to him and said, “I have to say something. That man knew it! That man knew it right away!” Another resident also blamed Helm. “In all due respect, and I’ve been a friend of Jeff’s for a long time, but it almost sounds like he’s dropped the ball on this to not let the rest of the council know what happened on Walnut Street," she said.


31 comments:

  1. HELM AGAIN WHY IS HE STILL EMPLOYEED?

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  2. Back door Helm , to many hats , lack of enforcement , got the borough in to many messes remember the (twin towers) garages off 13 th street , gave a permit then took it back ,WHATS NEXT??

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  3. There is a apartment building on 4th street for sale with more apartments and is in the business area of Columbia. Why not put it there or in E-town where the company is from. Or why doesn't the CEO of Blue print buy his neighbors house and turn into a apartment building.

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  4. Doesn't Jeff Helm have to answer to Codes Manager Steve Kaufhold? Jeff is just too nice of a guy and confrontation is not his strong suit. The Mayor needs to focus on the Columbia High School students terrorizing this town with his buddy Tom Strickler.

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    1. The high school kids absolutely do terrorize residents. It happened to us just last week. It is no where near being controlled so don't let the officials bluff you into thinking they are solving the problem.

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    2. Geez, What are the doing to you?

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    3. Jeff Helm pushed his authority on law abiding people who just want to do things right , but if he is afraid of them or being sued he ran , and ran like hell ,this is why the towns is in the mess it is , you can't clean it up in a year, they have to give the OVER TAXED PEOPLE TIME TO CLEAN UP , because of one mans selective enforcement , we have over 20+ years to catch up.

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  5. The person who said they would not mind.if the recovery house was on Perry st then maybe they should find a house on Perry street and put it there why does this man only have these houses in Columbia is that because know one else wants them in there town when they can't get it in another town they say let's go to Columbia we know we can do it there

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    1. I bet this person rents there home.

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  6. Rent at $125 per week - is that per person or per room ? Assuming it is per person, how many can be in each room ? ( two or four ? ), sounds mighty profitable and something for every landlord in Columbia to think about now ! Shut that thing down and change the zoning ! - Columbia Borough can easily buy the house from the owner to make him whole.

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  7. JEFF HELM MUST GO NOW

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  8. We cry drugs in the streets but look down on those trying to become productive members of society. These type of facilities which bridge the gap between inpatient detox and community living are proven to reduce the risk of relapse because they are strict and require ongoing community based treatments which should continue once the resident has been discharged. These types of programs are really hard to get in toto since the demand outweighs the availability. Really, this is part of the solution to the drug problem.

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  9. Can anyone say "pole barn"?! The residents of 13th Street had some degree of misdirected anger. The resident that erected the pole barn was within his legal right to do so... the wrong person was Helm approving that and then reneging. How much money did that cost Columbia? Did that ever go to a lawsuit? It certainly would have if it was my pole barn and I was told I could erect it and then the borough changes their mind.

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    1. The borough don't want people to know these things

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    2. How many mess ups didn't people talk up about.

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  10. I find it interesting that for one, it is in "uptown", narrowing the margin between up and down town. Two, it is within a block of a council person's residence. Karma for NOT getting rid of jeff sooner.

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    1. So what! It is a good program and you all sound uneducated and pretty ignorant. You'd be fine if it was on 4th street, Perry St, anywhere you consider "downtown". What you have is a bad case of NIMBY! Yeah, it's great but Not In My Back Yard!

      Listen to yourselves. Mayor Lutz you are a christian man and yet you want to deny those trying to better themselves a place to do it, why? Because maybe you have friends in the area? Walk a mile in someone else's shoes for a minute!

      And, while I'm at it .. yeah, get a dog then you can patrol the area and keep everyone safe!

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    2. This person is about as (EDUCATED) as a Bee without a Stinger. We don't claim to be the poor peoples leaning post where they can come into our town and DEGRADE our properties so that they can bring in YES, JUNK PEOPLE tell these people to get jobs and buy a house somewhere and remodel it (STOP) living on the GOOD Homeowners. GET A JOB PEOPLE OR FREE LOADERS WHATEVER YOU ARE.

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    3. And we don't have a POLICE DOG to help with this , THANK YOU MAYOR LUTZ!

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  11. Very sad how judgemental you all are being. Meanwhile your town is polluted with drugs and is disgusting to begin with. I say if someone can get sober in columbia then they can stay sober anywhere. Please dont complain about your family and friends needing help and then judging all these people.

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  12. Way to stick up for the residents Cle that voted you into office. There are too many things being kept in the dark by the mayor and council and I am not buying the fact he didn't know. He has his hands in everything. And if its a vacant building why are three people living there?

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    1. Do these houses like cherry st tell the borough in writing every time a tennet moves and another moves in ? Landlords are fined if they don't report a list and get inspected every time a people move or a $500 fine is sent to them! PLEASE NO SLECTIVE ENFORCMENT.

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    2. CODES DEPT can someone answer this or 371 Kinderhook road ?

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  13. Real estate agent wouldn't be Jeff Seibert would it? Enough said!

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  14. It totally is a "NIMBY" all those neighbors found their way to borough hall that night to complain, but where were they for other injustices?

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    1. That's why I am glad to see this in THEIR neighborhood!

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    2. Yeah, chase the remaining home owners out of this town. I'm sure that will work out well in the end.

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    3. Yup just like Club good times

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  15. Drugs are EVERYWHERE. I know someone who goes to rehab 3 times a year comes back to Columbia and relapsed each time. The last time she overdosed. Lived and "remains" clean. I put quotations because it won't be long until Jane(Doe) uses again.
    How far is the methadone clinic from here? I know its not in Columbia not sure where it is. But they make a profit from Columbia drug addicts. Hopefully the rehab works and they have a POLICE PATROL WELCOME.

    P.S.
    I moved from in town to slightly out of town(still Columbia) and you would think the Drugs aren't bad here but they are much worse. Quiet area or not. We see a police officer maybe once a day if that.

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