Fifth St. neighbors balk at board’s idea

MARIETTA – The Washington County Behavioral Health Board is trying to drum up support for its planned residential treatment facility on Fifth Street in Marietta, with less than two weeks to go before it appears before the Marietta Planning Commission for needed approvals.

Meanwhile, neighbors of the property are speaking out against the project.

The Behavioral Health Board has already purchased what they are hailing as the perfect building for the facility at 812 Fifth St. in Marietta. Board members are hoping to soon get word that they have received a grant to help cover the cost of starting and running the facility, said David Browne, executive director of the Behavioral Health Board.

“Our dreams are to save a life,” said Browne of the proposed facility. “Currently there are people locally wanting treatment to get off painkillers and heroin, but we don’t have anything available locally.”

Without the grant, improvements on the facility and possible the start date – now projected for early 2015 – would be stalled. But the ultimate goal is to have the facility funded mostly by Medicaid reimbursement.

Housing patients from other counties will help. Browne estimates outside counties could fill two-thirds of the bed at any given time. In such a case, that county’s behavioral health board would foot the costs of room and board.

The board purchased the Fifth Street property for $112,000 because it is already laid out in a manner well-suited for its purposes. It features four bathrooms, communal eating and living room space, and nine bedrooms, some of which would be transformed into office space, said Browne.

The building was previously being used as a boarding house and the board is still honoring rental agreements with two of those tenants, he said.

The goal would be for approximately 10 patients to live in the building at a time and participate in intensive counseling for a period between 30-90 days.

Specifics regarding who would be admitted into the building have not been solidified, but the facility would almost certainly only house men because the building would not be co-ed and statistically there is a greater need among males, said Browne.

While the board feels the Fifth Street property would make an ideal residential treatment location, neighbors say they feel otherwise.

Neighboring property owner Pamela Russell said the conversion when the proposed location was transformed from a single family home to a boarding home about a year ago made her home value drop and stalled her efforts to sell her home.

“If this becomes a drug rehab, I will never be able to sell my home,” she said.

Currently Russell’s daughter and son-in-law are renting her home, and they are also unhappy with the plans.

“I’m all for people getting help, but not in a residential area,” said Amanda Snyder, 26.

Amanda and husband Jacob have a 3-year-old child and another on the way. They feel the current makeup of the neighborhood is quiet and family-friendly, but a treatment center would change that.

“I always hope for the best. But they’re going to have people going through withdrawal and those people will have some unpredictable symptoms,” said Jacob.

Brenda Mitchem, 49, lives across the street and is similarly nervous about setting up such a facility near her twin 11-year-old daughters.

“Some of the people on drugs have bad habits as far as stealing. I think it would bring a bad crowd,” she said.

But Browne said he is confident the facility and its residents would be ideal neighbors.

“There will be staff supervision there 24/7,” he said. “It will be a drug and alcohol free environment. There will be no loud parties, no people coming and going at all hours. They will be supervised and getting 10-12 hours of therapy a day. It will be the best neighbors you could ask for.”

The Behavioral Health Board has already aligned itself with a northeast Ohio company with years of experience running residential treatment facilities, he added.

Moreover, the facility is a necessary step in combating what has become a crippling drug problem in the area, he said.

To operate the facility, the board needs to obtain a sanatorium permit, which will be approved or denied by the Marietta Planning Commission during a meeting at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 3.

Browne said he is optimistic the permit will be granted, but if not the board can envision other uses for the facility such as a non-residential counseling location. In a worst case scenario, the board would sell the facility, he said.

Interested parties are able to attend the Sept. 3 meeting and voice their opinions in favor of or against the facility.