Sixteen duplexes along Jersey Street and Shannon Circle have been operating as Phoenix Recovery Center, a transitional housing service for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, since May 2012.
The program is registered through the Department of Human Services as part of the Arkansas Road to Recovery drug free program. Participants in the program are provided subsidized rent.
In July, the City of Conway Planning and Development office began receiving concerns over the legality of the center housing former prisoners and parolees.
When Matt Bell, executive director of Phoenix Recovery Center, spoke with the Planning Commission a year ago, they understood it to be a subsidized rent program for people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.
“Somewhere along the way he started bringing in prisoners . . . people who were either parolees coming out of prison or they’ve done their time and they’re transitioning out of prison,” said Bryan Patrick, director of planning and development.
The Pine Street community has organized a community meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Pine Street Community Center/Conway Police Department Pine Street Substation. A representative of the Police Department will be present to talk about incidents involving the recovery center. Bell Patrick and Grummer will be present to address any concerns.
In a letter to the Planning Commission, Bell said since opening the center in 2012, the center received approval from the Arkansas Department of Corrections to operate as a transitional living facility.
He said he’s been accepting residents from the Department of Community Corrections for about a year now.
The center does not accept individuals with violent or sexual offense history. Background checks and drug screenings are performed for all admissions.
The city attorney decided since transitional housing is not outlined in the language of the current zoning plan, the plan needs to be amended to include it, specifically for ex-prisoners.
The Northeast Old Conway Area is currently zoned Specific Plan. Within this area, there are sub-zones. The area zoned for the Phoenix Recovery Center is classified as T4 or Transitional zone.
“It’s not quite urban, it’s not quite suburban,” Patrick said. “It’s something in between.”
T4 allows for the use of a number of things as laid out by the Planning Commission, from playgrounds and cemeteries to libraries and bed and breakfasts.
“If you look through the list of allowed uses is doesn’t reference transitional housing, so because it doesn’t, it basically means you can’t do it,” Patrick said. “That’s where we’re at.”
Bell is proposing an amendment to allow the T4 sub-zone in the Northeast Old Conway Area to allow transitional housing for ex-prisoners and parolees suffering from substance addiction.
Last year, the Planning Commission amended a sub-zone to allow a specific lot to construct a cell phone tower.
They plan to approach the transitional housing situation in the same manner, allowing the amendment to only apply to these specific lots.
Patrick has also suggested this use only apply to the current property owner, Bell of MLB Investments, LLC.
Bell owned and rented these properties for several years before turning them into Phoenix Recovery Center.
“The neighborhood was blighted,” he said. “I had problems with crime, vandalism, and I couldn’t regulate tenants with drug-use, drug sales and violence.”
Over the last several decades, Conway experienced suburban flight.
“The urban, inner-city neighborhoods went into a state of decline when people began moving to the suburbs,” said Scott Grummer, program manager of Community Development.
By turning the property into a recovery center, tenants now have to live by strict rules, curfews and surveillance.
Since keeping record in 2008, crime saw a peak in 2010 and has shown a steady decrease since.
“What used to be a nicer neighborhood was tucked away in a pocket of an area, where if people wanted to hide they could get back in there because it’s a dead end street, but now we have a staff who can monitor the houses,” Gummer said.
Gummer said residential concerns lean more on the side of property value than safety.
Janet Thompson, who lives at 1209 Jersey Street, a few lots down from the center, said she is not opposed to people seeking help, but she is opposed to this development being started and continuing in her neighborhood.
In an email to Patrick she raised concerns about decreasing the property value of the neighborhood and that she is concerned about the well being of children.
James, of Russellville, is a recovering drug addict living at the Phoenix Recovery Center who, last weekend, was able to see his family for the first time in 13 months.
“I feel safe here,” he said. “I didn’t want to go back to my old life where I’d see my drug addict friends. Here, I can get help.”
Grummer said it’s important for all Conway residents to realize every neighborhood is different, and what might work for one community may not work for another.
“Everybody needs to look at who lives there, consider what they want and worry about your own community and what you can do to support your community because every neighborhood is different, separate and they have different assets and liabilities,” he said.
(Staff writer Michelle Corbet can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1215. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)