Cazenovia Recovery CEO Suzanne Bissonette said they face neighborhood opposition every time they try to open a residential treatment facility, and eastern Lockport proved to be no exception.
At Cazenovia’s first forum on its plans to open such a facility at the Switzer building, dozens of residents grilled administrators over safety concerns, facility residents and security, and the potential impact on their own property values. Nearly all of the speakers said or suggested they oppose Cazenovia’s proposal.
Kristin Barnard of Bonner Drive said she supported Cazenovia’s mission of treating and rehabilitating drug-dependent people in the community, but does not want it in her neighborhood. She worries the facility would invite property crime and degrade quality of life in her quiet residential neighborhood, comparing it to the supposed impact of Urban Park Towers downtown.
It was a sentiment expressed repeatedly throughout the forum, held Thursday night at DeSales Catholic School.
“The problem we are having is not what you do; it’s where you want to do it,” Barnard said.
Before a question-and-answer session that often was often loud and heated, Cazenovia administrators outlined their plans for the Davison Road property, trying their best to pitch an unpopular idea to a skeptical crowd.
Cazenovia is planning to purchase 17 acres and numerous buildings from Mulvey Construction — which bought the land and buildings from Niagara County last August for $100,000 — at a price that remains under negotiation (Bissonette said their first offer was for $450,000). The provider would convert the property’s largest building, the Switzer Building, into a residential facility for up to 44 women recovering for substance abuse disorders, and up to 20 of their children.
Patients will have already undergone detox and spent 30 or more days in an inpatient treatment facility.
At Cazenovia’s facility, patients would undergo frequent, “intensive” treatment to reintegrate into society, and would be subject to random room checks, drug testing and other measures to ensure they comply with facility rules and remain sober.
Patients would receive managed medication, such as methadone, on site. No one outside the facility would receive opioid medication at the facility.
The center would be staffed around-the-clock and maintain security.
“Their safety ensures your safety,” Bissonette said. “We know where they (the patients) are at all times.”
Cazenovia spokesman Ed Cichon said patients at two nearby facilities stayed for an average of 68 and 110 days, respectively — while 92 and 85 percent remained sober throughout their stays.
In addition to the rehab facility, five existing buildings and five new “eight-plexes” on the site would provide 65 low-income apartments — primarily one- and two-bedroom units, with some three-bedroom units. Those apartments would be split between low-income residents and patients who completed stays at Cazenovia residential treatment facilities.
The provider operates similar facilities throughout the region, including Madonna House in Lockport, a women’s facility that would be relocated to the Switzer building to make way for a men’s program.
These treatment programs are funded through the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, while its low-income houses are paid for through tax credits from the state office of Housing and Community Renewal.
The Cazenovia “alumni” would continue to receive treatment on-site, but would have to go elsewhere for their medication.
“They’re ready for a better life, but they can’t afford to move into a nice apartment in a good part of town, and they’re going to situations that aren’t the best,” Cichon said, referring to some individuals who complete Cazenovia’s treatment programs.
Barnard said she was more concerned about the apartment residents, rather than patients at the more tightly-controlled facility.
“These people are not healthy and are not in the right state of mind. It takes a good year for someone to be detoxed, before they can actually function,” Barnard said. “And it takes longer to be reintegrated into society, so 90 days is not enough.”
Other speakers worried visitors might steal from homes or target vulnerable residents, such as the elderly or children.
Kris Schultz, president of An Jo Baseball, pointed out the facility would stand just yards from baseball diamonds, which would remain open thanks to an easement stipulated in the county’s purchase agreement. Schultz worried about “paraphernalia” being left on the fields that could harm children playing baseball.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of the children. And a facility like this, in my opinion, should not be anywhere near where children play,” Schultz said.
Several residents called the eastern city residential area one of Lockport’s “last nice neighborhoods,” suggesting the facility would bring inner-city problems.
“I can’t tell you the last time I heard a siren (in my neighborhood),” said Daniel Branch. Some speakers raised concern about the proposed facility’s impacts on traffic and the city tax roll. Bissonette said Cazenovia plans to offer the city a Payment In Lieu of Taxes, likely between $35,000 and $41,000 annually.
John Craig, a member of the Lockport school board, said the children of patients could add further to the district’s ballooning special education costs.
“I understand the need, but I want the community to also understand that we’re seeing the effects of that addiction problem,” Craig said.
Only a few speakers defended the proposal, saying that to tackle addiction, someone has to be willing to welcome treatment facilities into their neighborhood.
“If the entire world thought that it can’t be in my backyard, then where is help going to come from?” said Paul Lamont of Lakeview Parkway.
Cazenovia will host its second forum on the proposal at 7 p.m. June 18 at The Dale Association, 33 Ontario St.