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Turning Point Center’s move nixed; August deadline nears

MIDDLEBURY — The Turning Point Center of Addison County (TPC) has around five months in which to pin down a new headquarters to host its services for people recovering from addiction. And the agency’s deadline got a little more dire on Monday after the Middlebury Development Review Board rejected the organization’s plan to relocate from the Marble Works to a single-family home at 91 Court St.
The nonprofit TPC is a member of the Vermont Recovery Network. It offers peer-to-peer support to people in recovery, or those seeking recovery, from addictive substances and behaviors. The organization also dispenses Narcan emergency kits to people in an effort to prevent fatal opioid overdoses. Its office at 228 Maple St. (the stone building at the bottom of Printer’s Alley) also offers clients a safe, drug-free place to gather and associate.
During 2014, the TPC received around 1,000 visits per month from addicts or their family members seeking various services, ranging from a willing listener to pointers on how to re-enter the labor market. That was up from around 600 visits per month just three years prior.
That traffic has placed stress on the TPC’s roughly 2,000 square feet of rented space in Middlebury’s Marble Works complex. The TPC’s lease at 228 Maple St. expires at the end of this August, after which the Marble Works Partnership plans to sell the building, according to Bill Brim, executive director of TPC.
“The lease will not be renewed,” Brim said on Tuesday, adding Marble Works officials have been very accommodating.
He added the TPC Board has spent the better part of a year looking for new digs that would afford the nonprofit more space, greater visibility and more convenience for transportation-challenged clients.
“It does not meet our needs,” he said of the current location.
So the organization scanned the area for a new spot, and found a home at 91 Court St. that Brim said would meet TPC’s programming needs. It includes 2,640 square feet of above-grade space, and another 1,300 square feet in the basement. It also includes a heated, two-bay garage that TPC officials believed could hold group meetings.
Brim added the building has enough space to potentially provide transitional housing to those recovering from addiction. But he stressed TPC had no immediate plans to apply for such an amenity, which would require a different layer of approvals and a lot of financial backing.
So Brim and his board focused at this point on simply relocating offices and current TPC programs to 91 Court St. Brim said he received a commitment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for enough loan money to purchase and renovate the building to accommodate TPC. He prepared an application to the Middlebury DRB seeking conditional use approval for TPC to use the property for its offices and programs.
Unfortunately, that’s when things started to fall apart for TPC’s proposed move.
Due to what TPC and town officials are chalking up to miscommunication, it turns out Turning Point had no realistic shot of operating at 91 Court St. That’s because social service agencies are not even allowed as a conditional use in the Office-Apartments zone in which the property is located.
“Apparently, there was a misunderstanding as to how things could, should or would go,” said TPC board member Brian Valley. “Had we known (91 Court St. would not work), we would not have pursued it.”
Turning Point officials had hoped TPC could qualify within the category of a business/professional office, which is one of the allowed conditional uses in the district.
Middlebury zoning rules define social service agencies as “buildings or other facilities within which social services are provided to clients or targeted classes having social needs as defined by grant funding, and operated by non-profit organizations such as the Counseling Service of Addison County, Addison County Community Action, Addison County Parent-Child Center and similar health or social service agencies.”
“I wish I would have known the zoning issue relative to social service agencies,” Brim lamented.
“I thought it was very clear what we were doing was looking for an office space.”
He pointed to the Addison County Parent-Child Center at 126 Monroe St. and the United Way of Addison County at 48 Court St. as examples of permitted, nearby social service agencies.
Jennifer Murray is Middlebury’s director of planning and Zoning. She believes she spelled out the potential zoning pitfalls within the TPC’s proposed functions at the Court Street site.
Asked about the examples that Brim’s offered of other social service agencies operating in the area, she said the Parent-Child Center headquarters is located in Middlebury’s high-density residential district, and that it was approved in 1988, before Middlebury added the definition of “social services facility’ to its table of allowable uses in the zoning districts. Murray acknowledged that the United Way is located in the Office-Apartments zoning district. But Murray — who began her Middlebury job around seven months ago — suggested that the UWAC proposal might have been OK’d several years ago because the United Way uses 48 Court St. strictly for administrative offices and does not provide direct services to clients there.
Ultimately, the DRB determined during a packed Monday meeting that the TPC proposal could not advance, due to its incompatibility with the zoning district.
COMMUNITY SUPPORT
That’s not to say Turning Point’s plans weren’t lauded. Thirty-one people attended Monday’s DRB meeting, and several of them spoke up in favor of the plan.
Among the supporters: Moira Cook, who wrote a letter to the DRB stating, “I believe 91 Court St. is an excellent location for the Turning Point Center of Addison County. It is accessible, visible and on the bus route.”
Also writing a letter of support for the plan was Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison.
“With a demonstrated record of collaborative efforts and a grasp on the phenomenon we are seeing, the Turning Point Center of Addison County is in the best position to effectively offer Addison County addiction support services,” Ayer wrote. “This proposed project will contribute a great deal to ensuring the continued services currently being provided and allowing for future expansion to include much needed services for the residents of Addison County. These much-needed recovery services will falter if an appropriate location is not acquired.”
But the TPC plan also drew some concerns, including from local resident Mark Stefani.
“As needed and beneficial as are the services that TPC offers, I strongly believe that the proposed relocation of this social services agency would cause significant harm to the quality of the neighborhood, and is not in keeping with Middlebury’s municipal plan or code,” he wrote in a letter to the DRB.
“Relocation of the TPC would bring additional lighting, in the form of the floodlights that are proposed to be installed outside of the center; increased vehicle and foot traffic, which would last into the evenings (recovery meetings scheduled at the TPC often end as late as 10:30 p.m.), and increased public smoking and litter,” Stefani added. “I also question the wisdom of allowing the relocation of a social services organization for recovering substance abusers in close proximity to the residential neighborhood. Within 50-100 yards of the building, there are residences where live at least 11 children between the ages of 4 and 17; other families with young children live between half a block and one block away. The high school and Hannaford Career Center are located across Court Street.”
Still other neighbors voiced concerns about the potential addition of a TPC “recovery center” for up to eight individuals.
Brim said the recovery center component would not have been a “deal-breaker” if it were the only issue preventing the TPC office move.
Now that 91 Court St. is off the table, TPC officials will quickly meet to review other properties that might meet the organization’s needs. It might come down to renting a different location or even asking for occasional meeting space at an area church to ensure TPC a continued presence until a new, permanent home can be found, according to Brim.
“The board is very disappointed,” Brim said of the failed effort to secure 91 Court St., after spending more than $1,000 on permitting.
He realizes that finding another location by the end of August might be a tall order.
“It’s not easy,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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