BANGOR, Maine — The City Council decided Monday night that it would not amend city zoning rules to allow for a Hope House expansion and then indefinitely postponed discussion of an agreement with Penobscot Community Health Care that would have allowed the agency to move forward with the project.
Hope House is a facility at 170 Indiana Ave. that provides emergency food and shelter to alcoholics and drug addicts, as well as on-site medical care, mental health services, housing support and social service case management.
During the public comment segment of Monday’s meeting, residents reiterated many of the concerns they expressed during an Aug. 29 meeting with PCHC about the proposed expansion. Those complaints ranged from transients living and growing marijuana in the woods near homes to concerns that 15 registered sex offenders list their address as the Hope House.
Councilor James Gallant was the most adamant opponent to the expansion among the councilors. He held up a handful of news articles regarding crimes committed by Hope House residents and transients. He said he felt the Hope House and other social services were not only “enabling and coddling” addicts, but also drawing more of them to Bangor.
“Every bed that [Hope House] provides is another problem that comes to Bangor,” Gallant said.
Allen Tweedie was one of several residents to speak at the meeting.
Tweedie said he entered the Hope House in 2010 to take advantage of its services during a difficult time in his life. Today, Tweedie said he is working and has his own place.
“There are a lot of good people there,” Tweedie said. “I wouldn’t be standing here today if it weren’t for the people there who gave their time and effort for me.”
Gallant applauded Tweedie for turning his life around, but said he believed the vast majority of Hope House residents wouldn’t have similar success stories to share.
Hope House has transitional housing room for up to 24 people. PCHC secured grants from Maine State Housing and some foundations to construct an 8,000-square-foot building that would add 24 more small bedrooms as well as improve its clinic.
Council Chairman Cary Weston abstained from most of the meeting after the council voted that he had a conflict of interest because he is a partner in Sutherland Weston, a marketing and communications firm that has PCHC as one of its clients.
Councilor Susan Hawes did not attend the meeting.
PCHC had asked both the Bangor Planning Board and Bangor City Council to change zoning rules in the area to allow for more rooming houses, boarding homes or congregate housing facilities owned and operated by public or nonprofit organizations.
The planning board voted 4-3 against PCHC’s amendment request at its July 19 meeting.
Members of the council and the public agreed on one thing: They want to see a safe, successful city.
Suggested solutions to the residents’ problems aired at recent meeting ranged from starting neighborhood watches to offering services similar to an operation in Portland in which a van travels around the city, picks up homeless individuals and takes them to emergency rooms or shelters or offers them help.
Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick said the city should form a commission to hash out solutions to the overall problems involving transients, homelessness and addiction in Bangor.
Councilor Nelson Durgin said the problems in Bangor transcend the Hope House and that the residents’ concerns would have continued to exist with or without the expansion. Now that the discussion about the Hope House has “opened the window,” it’s time to begin a broader discussion of how to move forward and alleviate the problems citywide, Durgin said.
Bangor Daily News reporter Andrew Neff contributed to this report.