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Neighborhood residents opposed to Bel Air sober living community for 50 men

A group called New Points, with an address in Towson, is building five homes on Ogden Court near Route 24 and Wheel Road to be the "world’s first Sober Living Community built ground-up specifically for the recovery process" for 50 men.
A group called New Points, with an address in Towson, is building five homes on Ogden Court near Route 24 and Wheel Road to be the "world’s first Sober Living Community built ground-up specifically for the recovery process" for 50 men.(Erika Butler/The Aegis)

Construction of a new sober living community for recovering addicts in the heart of the county’s development envelope is drawing outrage from nearby residents who say they knew nothing of the project.

New Points is building “the world’s first Sober Living Community built ground-up specifically for the recovery process,” according to its website, www.newpoints.org.

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Five buildings, approved by the county as single-family homes, are in various stages of construction on 2.5 acres on Ogden Court, just off the intersection of Wheel Road and Route 24.

“We’re not comfortable that these have been built in our neighborhood without talking to our neighbors,” said Karli Bain, who lives near the community. “We’ve had no input on this, no notification, and that makes us uncomfortable.”

The single-family homes being there are what was applied for and approved by the county, a county government spokesperson said.

A recovery residence in Maryland must be certified by the Maryland Department of Health Behavioral Health Administration; according to its website. New Points does not operate any recovery residences in Harford County.

Requests for comment from New Point’s executive director, Warrie Boyd, were not returned Wednesday or Thursday.

The five homes “with an enclosed landscape to create an independent and private neighborhood” will accommodate 50 residents, all men, according to the New Points website. They range in size from 3,500 to 4,700 square feet, with single and double bedrooms that are 17-by-13 feet.

One of the homes will have a meeting hall that can hold up to 100 people to serve as “the focal point for recovery,” the site says.

Nearby residents who only recently found out about the activity that will be going on in the homes were taken aback by the project, and say that New Points is trying to sneak into the area.

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“It’s a shock. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around it,” Mary Chalkias, who lives about a half mile away, said. “I have a lot of questions.”

As a point guard for the Boston Celtics, Chris Herren’s dreams of playing in the NBA had seemingly come true. In reality, he was trapped in a nightmare of addiction to alcohol, cocaine, OxyContin and heroin. Herren spoke to 325 people at Havre de Grace High School Tuesday evening.

“The developer seems to try and hide from the neighbors, and that makes them more or less impossible to be trusted to manage a place like this in a competent manner,” Erich Bain said.

A petition is being circulated among residents and social media asking them to “join voices in opposition to this development on the grounds that it is an invasion of privacy, a threat to the peace and safety of the neighborhood and a potential threat to home values in the area,” it says.

The petition, started earlier this week, was supported by 315 people as of mid-afternoon Thursday.

Residents support the concept of such a community, but don’t think the middle of a residential neighborhood is the appropriate place for it, they said.

“I think it’s a great idea, but not in a residential, single-family, townhome community near a school, in a community that is built on safety,” Nick Chalkias said.

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“These are recovering addicts. We certainly support treatment for addiction, it’s a great thing to try and help people. But as anyone who has tried to help people knows, you can’t help all the people all the time,” Erich Bain said. “Addiction is a terrible disease, an intense struggle and not everyone succeeds. What happens when they don’t?”

The sober living community backs up to a community of 32 townhouses and condominium buildings.

The houses sit high on a hill and “loom over ours,” Erich Bain said. The windows are directly facing the windows of the townhouses behind them.

“The homes are extremely large, quite a bit bigger than ours and others in the neighborhood and they stand out quite a bit,” he said.

The community is near Emmorton Elementary School, which many students walk to and from each day, and Abingdon Library, as well as the site for the proposed Maryland Center for the Arts.

Besides students walking to and from school, the area is busy with lots of other activities — people on bikes, walking their dogs, running, Chalkias said.

She has a litany of questions — will children be safe walking to and from school, what will happen to home values, who will ensure safety of the community, what criminal background checks will be done?

“What is this benefit to our community and how does this benefit my community here in Monmouth Meadows?” Chalkias asked. “Not only that, how is this going to affect the children from elementary, to middle to high school and how we raise and build morale and values?”

“We’re concerned if everything doesn’t go according to plan … we don’t feel comfortable walking in our neighborhood anymore,” Erich Bain said. “It makes a lot of people uneasy.”

Chalkias wants to know about oversight of the community and how it will be regulated and managed.

“There a lot of speculation still. They haven’t come to us to tell us how it will be regulated, what kind of security,” Karli Bain said. “It comes across as they don’t really care about their neighbors.”

Some have tried unsuccessfully to reach the people behind the project — Boyd and founder Tom Burden.

Boyd answered a phone call Wednesday afternoon seeking comment for this article, but said he was headed into a meeting and asked that questions be emailed to him. He had not replied to the email as of Thursday afternoon nor did he respond to a voicemail message.

State oversight

A recovery residence is “a service that provides alcohol and illicit drug-free housing to individuals with substance-related disorders or addictive disorders, or co-occurring mental health, substance-related or addictive disorders,” according to the Maryland Department of Health’s Behavioral Health Administration.

“To the extent that transitional housing meets this definition, it would be considered to be operating as a recovery residence,” Brittany Fowler, deputy director of communications for the Maryland Department of Health, said in an email.

Recovery residences that receive state funds; operate as a certified recovery residence; are advertised as being a certified recovery residence; are represented by any individual, partnership, corporation, or other entity as being a certified recovery residence; or have been implied to the public to be a certified recovery residence are required to be certified by the Maryland Department of Health Behavioral Health Administration through the Maryland Certification for Recovery Residences process, Fowler said.

A certificate of compliance is valid for one year from the date it was issued, she said.

According to the Behavioral Health Administration’s website, New Points does not operate any recovery residences in Harford County.

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A certificate of compliance would not be issued before construction of a new residence, Fowler said, nor would one be issued until an application is submitted with all required documents.

The application and documents must be reviewed and approved by MCORR before a site visit is scheduled. A site visit is conducted to see if the residence is ready to operate as a certified recovery residence. Residents are not required reside in home before the certificate of compliance is issued, Fowler said.

County’s role

Harford County government approved construction of five single-family homes on the property, zoned R3, a high-density residential zoning.

“Homes are allowed, that’s what we approved,” Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for Harford County government, said. “The county is not involved in anything other than what was applied for.”

Harford County’s zoning code does not contain anything to regulate a sober living facility, she said.

“It could be that the activities in these homes would be a violation of our code. There is also a full gamut of activities that are not violations at all,” Mumby said.

Before the county can look into a use that violates the code, there has to be activity.

“First, something has to be happening in the homes, then we can determine what it is, and determine if it violated any regulations,” Mumby said. “All three of those things require something to be happening in those homes first.”

The county also wouldn’t investigate without a complaint about activity on the property, she said.

“If we received a complaint, we would look into it like we would any other,” Mumby said.

As it stands, the county has nothing to do with the homes other than making sure they are being built properly and meet construction codes, she said.

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