Lynne Road home for mentally ill opens

Oct 19, 2011

A Lynne Road home for the mentally ill has opened for patients after homeowners failed to get a court injunction to stop the home from operating.

Neighbors say they're distraught, while officials from Rhode Island-based Fellowship Health Resources, which is operating the home, say they want to be a good neighbor.

The six-bed "therapeutic respite" program for patients with mental illnesses and disorders opened its doors to patients late last week. Patients, who are referred by the state Department of Mental Health, will live at the home for anywhere from a week to 30 days.

The Beaver Meadows Homeowners Association, which fought to stop the home from opening in the Swifts Beach neighborhood, was unsuccessful in its appeal of a Plymouth County Superior Court judge's September 12 decision not to issue an injunction to stop the operation of the home.

Sean Murphy, a homeowners' association trustee, said the group's case is still open and members are deliberating about how to proceed.

An injunction would have stopped the home from being leased for any purpose other than a single-family residence.

The homeowners' association, which covers cul-de-sacs Lynne Road and Bachant Way, sought civil court action in June against builder and 7 Lynne Road homeowner Jeff White. White had been renovating the home since last spring with plans to lease it to Fellowship.

The homeowners' association argued that the renovations White completed on the home violate the neighborhood's covenants.

The house's garage was converted into additional living space. Three bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom were added on to what was previously a three-bedroom ranch.

The homeowners also argued that White would be using the home for a "commercial purpose" - another violation of the covenants.

But the court disagreed, saying in its decision that White is not operating a commercial business because his business has nothing to do with the activity that occurs at the home.

Town officials have said from the beginning that there was nothing they could do to stop the home because it is exempt from zoning laws under the Dover Amendment, a law that provides a broad exemption to essentially all zoning laws for certain types of uses, including solar power, daycare, religious, agricultural, and educational facilities.

Town of Wareham attorneys agreed.

"There are a great line of cases that discuss educational components associated with mental health facilities or group homes of all types, shapes, and sizes. ... What the cases say universally is that it's not education in the classic sense. It's not just opening books and learning math and learning English and learning science," Town attorney Jason Talerman of Blatman Bobrowski & Mead explained at a June Board of Selectmen meeting. "It is the teaching of life skills, healthy eating skills, of other types of educational pursuits that help people function as contributing citizens to their community."

Neighbors have steadfastly opposed the home, saying they fear for their safety.

But Joseph Dziobek, President/CEO of Fellowship Health Resources, said he hopes the residents will soon accept the home into the neighborhood.

"We've seen this time and again that people have these fears and their first impulse is to try to block" the home, Dziobek said. "They may not be at the point where they're willing to sit down, work things out, smooth things over. ... At this point, I respect their decision, whatever it is, to either reach out or not."

Dziobek maintains that the home will be a positive presence in the community.

"I think we have an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the Commonwealth how the program ... can work to better people in the area," he said, adding that Fellowship is planning to host a "coffee hour" for residents to encourage communication between all parties.

Neighbors were taken aback, however, by the presence of two police cars at the home on Monday, just days after the home first opened, said Jane Bracchi, whose property is the only one that abuts the home.

It could not be immediately confirmed why the police responded, but Selectmen Cara Winslow and Selectman Steve Holmes said at Tuesday's board meeting that they'd received calls from concerned residents about the incident.

"I'm not sure how we can assist these people," Winslow said, but noted that she would like the Board of Selectmen to see how it could "assist [residents] with being more comfortable in their neighborhood now that the home is open."

Dziobek said he "hadn't heard anything about" any police activity at the home.

Murphy said residents are keeping "a more watchful eye" in the neighborhood.

"[Monday's] incident doesn't mean it's a recurring incident," he noted. "We're just going to be a bit more mindful and make sure all the neighbors communicate. We all watch each other's kids anyway."

Bracchi, a mother of a young child, said she and her neighbors have asked the Wareham Public Schools transportation department to begin picking up students in front of their homes so they do not have to walk past the facility.

And, Bracchi said, a majority of the neighbors have chosen not to participate in Halloween festivities.

"We're boycotting handing out [Halloween] candy," she said. "We don't trust [the home] for our kids, so we don't want to entice kids from outside the neighborhood to come here."