Site plan put on hold

Damascus House asks zoning hearing delay after neighbors object

Expansion at issue

Treatment center wants to develop Edison St. property

Brooklyn Park

January 05, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

In an effort to placate neighbors, a Brooklyn Park substance-abuse treatment center has asked the county to indefinitely postpone a zoning hearing, scheduled for yesterday, that is related to plans to more than double the center's operations.

The operators of Damascus House, a 17-bed treatment center in the 4200 block of Ritchie Highway a few blocks south of the city line, are planning to buy a property on nearby Edison Street and renovate a house there into a 15-bed facility. It also wants to build two four-bedroom transitional homes on the site.

Its contract to purchase the property is contingent on rectifying an anomaly: The house on the lot is split almost down the middle between residential and commercial zoning.

Yesterday's hearing would have addressed whether the county would change the designation to commercial. The project's development consultant, Walter Skayhan, said the county advised him to request a change to commercial zoning because it would require a lesser variance in lot size than under residential zoning.

Skayhan said Damascus House elected not to proceed with the hearing because of community and legislative opposition.

At a meeting last week, about 60 neighbors packed a room at the treatment center to express their opposition to expansion. They also said they knew nothing of the plans until signs were erected alerting them of a potential zoning change.

After the meeting, the District 31 legislative delegation - state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno and Dels. Joan Cadden and Mary Rosso, all Democrats, and Republican Del. John R. Leopold - wrote to the administrative hearing officer to recommend denial of the rezoning request.

Rosso said she "wholeheartedly" supports Damascus House and its mission but that the treatment center didn't alert the community that it was changing its expansion plan from razing the house to renovating it.

"They need to go back to the drawing board," she said.

Skayhan said representatives of Damascus House plan to attend the Brooklyn Heights Improvement Association's regular meeting Monday at the Brooklyn Park branch library, 1 E. 11th Ave.

Though the expansion is not on the agenda, Skayhan said he hopes he can reschedule an- other meeting to discuss plans for the property "under calmer and cooler circumstances."

Until then, he said, the expansion plan is on hold.

Some residents do not object to an expansion but don't want a zoning change for fear of what might be erected on the property if Damascus House leaves, Skayhan said.

"What's happened since [last week's meeting] is that cooler heads have pointed out that Damascus House is a known entity, and would be there for a long time," he said. "If Damascus House doesn't pursue it, then anyone can buy it."

Many of the residents who spoke at last week's meeting said that Damascus House had taken up its fair share of their back yards and that they wanted no more of it.

"It's not just a zoning issue. It's the whole thing. We just don't want anymore," said Sandra Bowen, who embarked on a door-to-door campaign to inform her neighbors.

Bowen also organized a bus trip to the now-postponed zoning hearing, which she had to cancel at the last minute. She said neighbors will be out in force Monday to again express their opposition.

The rancor at last week's meeting surprised Skayhan and Damascus House Program Director Charles Mooneyhan, who had presented the plans at Brooklyn Heights' May meeting. Sensing little opposition then, his staff applied for and secured grants to pay for the $1.2 million expansion.

"I want to be a good neighbor," said Mooneyhan, a graduate of the Damascus House program. "We just need a real fair hearing, and that's what I'm hoping we'll get."

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