An application for a special use permit has yet to be submitted but Eagle residents along Church Street are already vocalizing concerns about a "transition house" being proposed there.
The properties in question are a duplex at 319 Church St. and a single family home next to that on 320 Howard St. Tuesday night the Eagle Town Board had an informal discussion about the proposal, with members noting they had received numerous phone calls opposing the transition house.
"There is a lot of concern about this, from where I am sitting," said Mayor Yuri Kostick. "The people I am hearing from are seriously concerned about their property values and their safety."
Before the operation could open, the transition house proposal would have to go through a dual town special use process, which includes public hearings before both the Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission and the Eagle Town Board. The proposal would need approval both as a special use in a residential zone district and for a special use permit. No application has yet been submitted for these town processes, and the proposal has not advanced beyond the point of discussion with town staff.
"The staff has not been supportive of this in this location," said Eagle Town Manager Willy Powell.
According to Deb Baldwin, director of the Next Step program which is proposing the project, the transition house would be geared to help people recover from issues including alcoholism and substance addictions by providing a structured environment. The program is independent of the justice system.
"Participation is voluntary, not court ordered," Baldwin said. "This would be a safe and sober living house where people can continue living down the new road they started."
Next Step is part of the Survive program, which also encompasses the Restorative Justice program. Restorative Justice has been working with inmates at the Eagle County Jail for more than four years, showing positive results. Baldwin started all the programs and has a long history with the Eagle County justice system, beginning with the district attorney's office in 1988.
"The programs are very independent of all government agencies," she said. "We are funded through fund-raising and grants."
Baldwin hopes to have the home open by next year and isn't sure when she will submit an application to the town of Eagle for a special use permit.
"I met with town planner Tom Boni last week and I need to gather a lot of information before I submit an application because the town is going to have a lot of questions," Baldwin said Tuesday.
She said she has a "business agreement" with the property owner but so far there is no contract to buy the properties. She feels sorry that the neighboring residents found out in a manner she did not intend.
"We wanted to hold a community meeting to introduce ourselves," Baldwin said. "This thing kind of got ahead of itself. I feel bad people had to find out about it that way. We still plan to host a meeting in the near future."
Residents of the area, such as Melissa Dallmann, whose family of five lives on Hilltop Street within view of the Church Street property, are concerned about the types of people who would live at the transition house.
"It would be too much traffic of people we don't know around our babies," Dallmann said.
The house would primarily serve misdemeanor offenders and definitely not sex offenders, Baldwin said. A qualified supervisor would also be on site at all times.
"These are real, everyday people you see all over," Baldwin said. "They are people who were raised here and work here and are around you everyday."
The house could serve up to 20 people but Baldwin said it might not see that capacity for a long time.
"We would screen them and only take them on as they qualified," she said. "We might only have a few there for a while."
Dallmann said she doesn't trust the people behind the proposal.
"So far, (Baldwin) hasn't talked to anyone else about it besides one family," she said. "I think they're going to paint the proposal as rosy as they can, making it sound like a great thing."
She pointed out that the property is two blocks away from two preschools, an elementary school and a middle school.
"Another concern is that if the town accepts this, we will be opening the door for more things like this," she said. "I'm not sure how it will affect our property value or homeowner's insurance policies, either."
Baldwin said she completely understands people's reactions.
"I lived in that neighborhood for a long time," she said. "I raised my five children there. The level of emotion tells me the people there take pride in their community and that tells me this is the right place for the home."
Baldwin now lives in Gypsum.
During their informal discussion of the transition home, members of the town board vehemently disagreed that a residential area is the right spot for the transition home. Members discussed placing a temporary moratorium on uses such as transition homes or half-way houses so that the town could develop regulations about such operations. Ultimately, however, members noted if Baldwin submits an application, the transition home will be thoroughly vetted during public hearings before both the planning commission and the town board.
Kostick said he plans to meet with neighbors in the area to communicate the town's position and added that he hopes the proponents of the plan rethink the application and consider alternate locations, such as Chambers Avenue.
"I just don't think it (the Church Street proposal) will go anywhere," said Kostick. "It is going to tie up the planning commission and the town board and cause a very ugly public hearing process," he said.
Meanwhile Baldwin promised to schedule a community meeting to present information for the Next Step house sooner than later.
"I'll keep you posted," she said.
Eagle Valley Enterprise Editor Pam Boyd contributed to this story.