Old motel sized up for new recovery center

MIDDLEBURY — The Turning Point Center of Addison County is considering the purchase of the Greystone Motel on Route 7 South in Middlebury for use as a potential recovery facility and detox center for people battling substance abuse.
Bill Brim, executive director of the Turning Point Center, or TPC, shared his organization’s preliminary plans for the property during an interview on Tuesday with the Independent and in a brief presentation to the Middlebury selectboard that evening.
“I’m on a fact finding mission to see what the town wants to do about this,” Brim said of the potential acquisition of the Greystone Motel and how it could provide stays of up to six months, and a variety of support services, for people trying to rebuild their lives as they recover from addiction.
“I would like for this to be a community project.”
The non-profit 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. Based at 54 Creek Road, the organization also dispenses Narcan emergency kits to people in an effort to prevent fatal opioid overdoses and offers visitors a safe, drug-free place to gather and associate.
Turning Point officials have spent the past four years searching Addison County for a spot to host a recovery center. Brim envisions a fully supervised place where people could escape temptations while receiving counseling, job placement and other services from organizations like the Counseling Service of Addison County (CSAC) and Porter Medical Center.
Clients would have to be referred to the new center from CSAC, the court system or other agencies that deal with people struggling with addiction, according to Brim.
“It would be a safe place to get people moving in the right direction,” Brim said.
Finding a workable recovery center location in the county has been a challenge for TPC. Real estate prices, local zoning and concern expressed by potential neighbors have hampered the organization’s attempts to pin down a spot.
But Brim believes the Greystone Motel could fit the bill.
Owned by Leela Inc., the Greystone sits on a 3-acre lot and has 10 guest rooms. It is currently assessed by the town of Middlebury at $393,600.
Brim believes the Greystone could accommodate up to eight rooms for recovery clients and another two rooms to serve detox patients — people requiring monitored, short-term stays while ridding their systems of alcohol and/or medication overdoses. Area police must currently take detox patients to either the Grace House or the Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland or to Act 1 detox center in Burlington, thus temporarily taking officers out of their service area.
Middlebury police Chief Tom Hanley on Tuesday confirmed his support for TPC’s plan.
“The Turning Point plan will offer something we’ve never had in Addison County — a local facility to bring inebriates to,” Hanley said. “The plan will also provide a safe, temporary lodging with a structured environment for those in recovery from addiction. We can’t ignore the current situation where we’ve got a significant addiction problem in our area with insufficient structures to assist people in escaping addiction. While we focus heavily on prevention, we must recognize the need to help the sick. Addiction is not just a social problem, it’s a medical problem that also begets, to some extent, crime. A healthy community is a safe community.”
TPC officials realize they face several hurdles to putting their plan into motion.
The Greystone Motel is located in Middlebury’s Protected Highway District. Social service facilities are only allowed in the community’s Village Residential Commercial zone, explained Jennifer Murray, director of planning and zoning for the town. So TPC would need a variance, or another creative solution in order to use the Greystone for its purposes.
“What is permissible under the zoning will really depend on what (TPC’s) final proposal looks like, and whether we are able to classify the use as a group home or as a social service facility,” Murray indicated in a Tuesday email. 
But Murray also noted group homes for disabled and handicapped persons can receive special consideration under state law and local zoning — with certain caveats. So TPC could pursue a recovery facility at a different location if the Greystone option doesn’t work out.
For example, Middlebury’s zoning laws allow for a residential care home or group home in the same districts as single family dwellings, if it is operated under state licensing or registration, serves not more than eight persons who have a handicap or disability as defined by state statutes, and if it is not located within 1,000 feet of any other such home, existing or permitted.
“Middlebury zoning goes on to define handicap or disability, which includes drug addiction and alcoholism and specifically excludes any individual who is an alcoholic or drug abuser who, by reason of current alcohol or drug use, constitutes a direct threat to the property or safety of others,” Murray said.
“So it’s a possibility we could permit a small recovery home under this exemption, if his proposal meets these criteria,” she added.
It should be noted that Middlebury’s town plan and zoning regulations are up for review by the planning commission and could look different next year, according to Murray. She also pointed to “a couple of housing bills at the state level that could change how we regulate recovery homes.”
While TPC officials might be able to navigate local permitting waters, they aren’t swimming in cash. Brim acknowledged it would cost a substantial amount of money to acquire and renovate the Greystone to meet standards for a recovery center. TPC would have to solicit grants and donations to help underwrite the costs of a local recovery facility.
With financing in hand, Brim and his colleagues would speak to the myriad other social service agencies to collaboratively operate the facility.
“This is absolutely needed,” Brim said.
Selectboard members on Tuesday evening listened intently to Brim’s presentation. But they stressed they will have no review powers over a recovery center application. That will fall to the Middlebury Development Review Board.
“The work you are doing is important and needs to be done,” Selectman Victor Nuovo told Brim.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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