Reading, MA — As a result of concerns raised over the disposition of 59 Middlesex Avenue, residents and developers were invited to attend a community meeting hosted by the Reading Public Library on January 30. The property, located across the street from the library, was most recently used as the Daniels House Nursing Home. Rumors have been spreading that the building was to be reopened as an unregulated “sober house” by new owner Dan Botwinik. Botwinik, who purchased the property in November, was present at the meeting and explained that his hope was to lease the property to Process Recovery Center, a residential addiction treatment program, though he has applied for two different occupancy permits, one for facilities like Process Recovery Center, and the other for facilities like sober houses.
Justin Etling, the Managing Member of Process Recovery Center, confirmed for the overflow crowd that the proposed program is not a “sober house” but a step-down continuing care facility, licensed by the state, with both doctors and nurses on staff. Process Recovery Executive Director Nicole White confirmed that the facility would be licensed by the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and governed by its standards for a patient to staff ratio. The program is primarily for patients with private insurance who reside at the facility for three to four weeks. It is expected that the facility would house twenty-four patients with a few offices for staff. Etling was clear that patients would be “choosing to come” to the program and “would not be actively using [drugs].” Etling continued to describe drug abuse issues as the “second leading disease taking lives” in the country.
Neighborhood spokesperson Amy Nagy asked several clarifying questions regarding poor communications up to this point and regarding specifics of the care given at the facility. Concern was also expressed at the location of this type of facility so close to the library. Attorney Andrew Tine, representing Process Recovery, stated that they were waiting for the town to approve the occupancy permit before signing the lease. Town Counsel Chris Heep confirmed that the town was in the process of evaluating the applications. Though town bylaws do not allow for the type of facilities proposed in a residential area, the applications argue that both uses applied for are allowed under federal and state law. Nagy pointed out that she believed that Tine had a track record of suing towns who did not comply. While Botwinik stated that he wanted to work with the town, he would not rule out legal action as a tool.
Several residents had questions regarding what would occur if patients chose to leave the facility, especially outside of typical business hours. Etling responded that patients would be given rides to the train station in such circumstances when the trains were in operation. He indicated that while patients could not be “locked” into the facility if someone chose to leave outside of regular hours, the police would likely be notified. “We have little intention of someone leaving and just hanging outside,” Etling stated.
Residents also asked if other options for the property had been considered. Botwinik answered that he had inquired regarding many options including a veteran’s home. “I think I’ve found the best use of the building,” Botwinik stated. Resident Michael Baresco commented, “I had only heard sober house, the owner has gotten my fears down a little bit.”
The meeting concluded with Select Board chair Vanessa Alvarado pointing out that the next steps were negotiating for the occupancy permit. She encouraged residents to stay engaged through their selected spokespersons. The meeting concluded at 9:00 pm.