Officials at a drug counseling center on a key downtown corner want to add a group home to its building, dashing the hopes of economic developers who wanted to relocate the center.
Metroplex Development Authority officials have shown to buyers the New Choices Recovery Center, at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street. But the center didn’t accept any purchase offers.
Now, they’ve accepted a different proposal: the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse will renovate the entire five-story building in exchange for a group home on the upper floors.
Director Stuart Rosenblatt announced the project at Monday’s City Council meeting, during a public hearing on zoning limitations for halfway houses.
He said he was afraid the definition for halfway houses was written so vaguely that it might apply to his proposed group home.
Corporation Counsel John Polster said afterward that he believed the definition would not apply to the center, since it does not intend to solely take in prisoners to rehabilitate them before release.
The center does work with some residents who are on probation or parole, but not with prisoners.
Rosenblatt said the state was willing to invest $8 million to $10 million on the building, renovating it “from the basement to the fifth floor.”
Currently, the fourth and fifth floors are unused. They would become a group home, operated by the center.
Architects are finalizing the plans now, he said. The plans would need approval of the Planning Commission but appear to comply with current zoning.
Mosque needs land
In other business, the council weighed a surprise proposal from members of the mosque on Brandywine Avenue.
Several members came to the council because they had not received any response from the city when they offered to buy the vacant property across the street from their mosque. The large vacant lot was the location of the Brandywine School, which was demolished after an arson fire in 2007.
Mohammed Hafez, a member of the mosque, said the mosque would use the land for parking and eventually also build a community center.
“Our offer is fair, and is based on the assessed value of the property,” he said.
The mosque has grown rapidly, with 300 members, and there are now traffic jams before Friday services.
“Parking on surrounding streets is very difficult,” Hafez said. “The large number of cars sometimes cause traffic jams.”
Mosque members began parking on the vacant lot, but the city recently surrounded it with cement barriers.
Council members said they hadn’t heard that there was an offer to buy the land.
Councilwoman Marion Porterfield added that she’d support it because of the growing mosque membership.
“It sounds reasonable,” she said of the plans. “Especially because it’s a large community that’s here.”
Mayor Gary McCarthy said after the meeting that the city received several purchase offers for the land, but that none of them would use the entire lot, which is nearly a block long. City officials are trying to decide what the best use of the land should be, and whether two owners could buy it, he said.
“The best option may be to subdivide that property,” he said.
He said the proposal is going through the standard sale process, with the council making the final decision after a recommendation from the property disposition committee.
Spending plan OK’d
The council also voted to approve its plans for the Consolidated Plan, including the Community Development Block Grant. There were no changes from their final proposal last week.
They cut $42,000 from the Department of Development, which may force the department to lay off a staffer. They also cut $22,000 from the Police Department, which relies on CDBG to pay for seven police officers.
With the money saved by those cuts, council members expanded the summer lunch for children program and the summer program at Steinmetz and Hillhurst parks, as well as boosting homelessness prevention.
The next voting session of the council will be Wednesday, May 29, rather than the normal Monday, which this month is the Memorial Day holiday.
The council meeting was bumped to Wednesday so that it also would not conflict with Tuesday’s Grievance Day. That event will be held in the council chambers.