Bel Air sober living community residents reduced to 40; residents still opposed

New Points sober living community executive director Warrie Boyd and founder Tom Burden stand outside the first of the five homes that will open in late March or early April.
New Points sober living community executive director Warrie Boyd and founder Tom Burden stand outside the first of the five homes that will open in late March or early April. (Erika Butler/The Aegis)

While operators say neighborhood fears of a sober living community off Route 24 at Wheel Road near Bel Air are unfounded, they are reducing the number of residents from 50 men to 40.

“Given how contentious this project has become, we are capping our capacity at eight people per house,” New Points sober living community executive director Warrie Boyd said.


Nearby residents say they are concerned about the safety of children walking to school or to the Abingdon Library. They’re worried their property values will decline and in general that such a facility, or community, is not appropriate in a residential community.

They also say the operators tried to sneak in the development under the radar and criticized them for not meeting with the neighborhood to discuss their plan before beginning construction.


Boyd acknowledged there is a stigma attached to what he says is a first-of-its-kind community for recovering addicts, but said in a short time nearby residents will find New Points will “make for outstanding neighbors.”

New Points is building five single-family homes on 2.5 acres on Ogden Court, across the highway from The Festival at Bel Air shopping center.

It will open gradually, as construction on each house finishes, likely at the end of March or the beginning of April, Boyd said.

“We will stagger the opening to make sure residents are meeting our expectations and to let neighbors at-large know we make great neighbors,” he said. “The neighbors fears are unfounded at this point and we’ll be able to demonstrate that.


“We are committed to practicing spiritual principals as a way of life. Those are honesty, integrity, service to others,” Boyd said. “So when you think about what is binding us together, it’s actually decent principals that unite us.”

Nearly four years after he purchased the historic Bel Air Academy building at auction, property owner John Zoulis can move ahead with plans to redevelop the site with apartments and townhouses.

The goal of the community, Boyd said, is to get the men “back into the groove of life.”

“The community is catered to people with a strong desire to recover,” Boyd said. “Recovery is not a nebulous process — if you do what’s expected of you, you will get the results, which is sobriety.”

Residents, however, oppose the sober living community, and a petition circulating against it has more than 1,000 signatures.

The reduction in the number of residents is a step in the right direction, said Erich Bain, who lives with his family in a neighborhood adjacent to the New Points community.

“It's encouraging that New Points is willing to compromise to show good will toward their new neighbors,” Bain wrote in an email.

New Points has not, however, been open and honest since over a year ago when the company and its contractor, Ten Oaks Homes, submitted initial permit applications to build five single-family homes, “not disclosing the actual intended use as a sober living community,” Bain said.

Failure to disclose the intended use is a violation of the zoning code, he said, and allowed New Points to nearly complete construction before anyone knew what the community would be. Bain said New Points also circumvented the special exception process, “which was put in place to provide a public hearing and give citizens a voice in what happens in their neighborhoods.”

New Points founder Tom Burden and Executive Director Warrie Boyd stand in the gym that is one of the features of the new sober living community being built on Ogden Court of Route 24 and Wheel Road south of Bel Air.
New Points founder Tom Burden and Executive Director Warrie Boyd stand in the gym that is one of the features of the new sober living community being built on Ogden Court of Route 24 and Wheel Road south of Bel Air. (Erika Butler/The Aegis)

“We appreciate their recent turn toward openness and would welcome a dialogue between New Points and the citizens whose lives will surround their venture,” Bain said. “However we feel it is important that the county be involved so these discussions will be part of the public record and all parties will be held accountable.”

Nearby resident Nick Chalkias said the project has been shrouded in mystery from the beginning, and his opposition has nothing to do with the community being built for sober living.

“We feel we can’t get forthright and straight answers,” Chalkias said.

He, too, questions the process and if the project has been done with approval according to zoning codes and uses.

“People are being put off misled,” he said. “We want honesty and transparency and we want answers from our county representative and it seems they’re not willing to do that.”

Boyd said he and founder Tom Burden had every intention of meeting with the community and holding an open house, once they were closer to their opening date.

“We want to educate people on what sober living is, because I know there is a stigma attached to it,” Boyd said.

Since their plans have come to light, Boyd has met with the president of the homeowners association, who Boyd said was “supportive.” He would not provide the name of the HOA president, who has said she would like to remain anonymous for now.

How it began

Founder Tom Burden has been sober for about four years. A former advertising executive, he lived a party-filled lifestyle.

“I realized I was not where I should have been,” Burden said, adding that his children approached him and said they liked him better when he wasn’t drinking.

“Everybody says you’ll do anything for your children and I did. And I did it for myself,” Burden said.

It didn’t take him long to realize how much more productive he was and how much better his life was when he was sober.

“I decided it was time to offer it to other people,” Burden said.

He began talking with his good friend and business partner about his idea. His partner, who wants to remain anonymous, told Burden he thought it would be an incredible program and they got started. His business partner is providing the funding for the project, the cost of which both declined to provide.

The bedrooms in New Points sober living are intentionally sparse to prevent isolation and to encourage residents to spend time together, executive director Warrie Boyd, right, with founder Tom Burden, said.
The bedrooms in New Points sober living are intentionally sparse to prevent isolation and to encourage residents to spend time together, executive director Warrie Boyd, right, with founder Tom Burden, said. (Erika Butler/The Aegis)

“I came to him and said here’s what we need to do. We talked and talked and talked and researched and researched and researched,” Burden said. “There really is not the kind of product we are talking about, long-term recovery.

“We also both had gotten to the point where we were tried of watching people suffer and die,” Burden said.

Boyd got involved on a contractual basis. Burden’s partner is also a member of Boyd’s family, and both knew how active Boyd, sober since 2005, is in the recovery community.

“He asked if I’d like to be involved. I fell in love with it so much it’s full-time for me now,” said Boyd, who used to work for T. Rowe Price.

He went to rehab in Florida and lived in a sober living home there before moving back to Maryland, he said.

Since then, he’s sponsored a number of people and attends meetings five times a week. He also stops by treatment centers a couple times a week to take them to sober living homes.

Only about 6 percent of recovering addicts go into sober living, when 70 percent of them should, Boyd said.

“Your chance of staying sober if you go to sober living increases 10-fold,” he said. “But most people just won’t live in your typical sober living facility.”

Burden and Boyd set extremely stringent guidelines when considering where to build their community. They looked for a year before settling on the Ogden Court site.

Developers plan to build commercial and retail, plus a 250-unit senior housing complex, on the former Bel Air Auto Auction site on Route 1, but many neighbors pushed back during a county Development Advisory Committee review of the concept Wednesday.

It’s situated off Route 24 with access to Interstate 95, near retail, near jobs and close to a very active recovery community as well as first-class treatment and clinical opportunities in Bel Air and Harford County.


Most importantly, the community needed to have a neighborhood feel.

“Why don’t we build something people will feel like they want to come home to, so they do have some dignity,” Burden said. “They are coming home, they’re not just existing in a room.”

The houses

Most of the residents will be recovering alcoholics, primarily because that’s where the demand is, but some will be recovering from drug addiction, Boyd said.

Each house — ranging in size from 3,500- to 4,700-square feet — will accommodate eight residents, most of them in double rooms, but a few in singles. The rooms are very sparse, with a bed, nightstand and a dresser. No televisions are allowed in bedrooms.

“We don’t want them to be isolated,” Boyd said. “Isolation and boredom are two of the biggest triggers for relapsing. We figure the more people, the more support you have, the better the chances [of success] you have.”

The single rooms are on the first floor, where people will be constantly passing by. All the rooms are also on one side of the house and each house has a common area on the first floor and the basement, which is where the only computer is set up to help the men with their job searches. .

Two rooms in each house will be turned into meditation rooms and studies.

The open kitchen is on the first floor, with washers and dryers, as well as a safe and a medicine room in the basements. One house has a gym in the basement.

“When I got sober, I went from knocking on death’s door to a triathlete,” Boyd said, “and I credit exercise with really, really helping a lot of people get sober.”

When they go back to work, most of the men won’t be in high-paying jobs, and not having to pay a gym membership will help.

For the first few months the community is open, Boyd will be living on-site full-time, he said. Eventually, support staff and an assistant director will be hired.

The rules

Residents must adhere to strict rules, Boyd said.

They are not accepted unless they have completed inpatient treatment, about 30 days sober, and they are drug-tested before they are admitted, he said. They’ll also be screened for background issues.

For the first two weeks, they get no phones and no vehicles. At the end of those two weeks, they must have a full-time job or be actively seeking one, Boyd said. They must also attend at least five recovery meetings and week and are responsible for regular chores.

Residents must contribute to the cost to stay at New Points, which is $1,200 a month, Boyd said. Families can pay up to half of the monthly cost. The community is not eligible for insurance or Medicaid and is cash only.

“Because we want our residents to be personally vested in their recovery,” Boyd said.

The men will be under strict curfews — 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight Friday and Saturday. They can’t leave before 7 a.m. without a special exception.

Anyone who gets caught using — whether it be alcohol or drugs — will be removed from the community immediately.

“Because when one person starts drinking, it leads to two, and two lead to four — we want them gone,” Boyd said.

A specific plan is created when the men arrive for where they will go if they relapse — home to their family, to a hotel or to a treatment center. And they won’t be allowed back without completing treatment again, he said.

“They will not be on the corner with a suitcase,” Boyd said.

While the program is voluntary, the minimum stay is three months. The average stay is six to seven months, and if, after nine months, the staff doesn’t see a resident moving in the right direction, they’ll begin pushing them harder, Boyd said.