City zoners approved a new “custodial care facility” on George Street, clearing the way for Project M.O.R.E to do even more for women reentering society.
In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Board of Zoning Appeals approved a new 23-bed home for recently incarcerated women on George Street. The operation will be run by Project M.O.R.E., a local non-profit that works on prison re-entry.
The organization sought special permission to open the facility in a “Residence/Office District” and only 400 feet from a similar facility, where 1,500 feet is otherwise required.
The special permission applies to an L-shaped area formed by two properties, one at 670 George St., the other, a parking lot, at 105 Sherman Ave. Zoning approval allows Project M.O.R.E. to more their existing facility at 84 Sherman Ave. to the new location.
Board approval came Tuesday night over a single objection from a woman who lives on George Street and said she feels “squeezed out” by all the institutional and medical uses taking over the neighborhood.
Attorney Marjorie Shansky, pinch-hitting for Project M.O.R.E.‘s usual attorney, presented the plan to the board.
“Project M.O.R.E. is a well-established entity within the city of New Haven,” Shansky said. The proposed use will “blend in well” with the surrounding area, she said.
The site will be well-monitored and have discreetly placed security cameras, she said.
Stacey Spell, representing the West River Neighborhood Services Corporation, spoke up in favor of the plan. He was greeted warmly by BZA Chair Cathy Weber. Spell said Project M.O.R.E. has been a “viable and good partner” in the neighborhood and urged board members to support their move.
Weber then invited a Project M.O.R.E. vice-president to come up and speak. “Come over here, Morris,” she said.
“Always a pleasure to be in your company,” Morris Moreland said to Weber as he took the microphone. He asked for the board’s support and concluded with the same line he opened with, drawing a chuckle from board members.
Voicing opposition was Edna Aklin of 648 George St. She said she lives next-door from a re-entry program and three doors down from another similar operation. She asked zoners not to approve the plan.
“My concern is this,” Aklin said later, during a break in the meeting, “I’m the sole resident going to be on the block.”
Aklin, a social worker, said she feels “surrounded” by medical and institutional programs, and like she’s being “pushed out.”
She said she’s lived on the block for 25 years. “I feel as though I’m being squeezed out of my home.”
Aklin said she’s also worried about neighborhood security with the program coming in.
As she gathered her raincoat to leave before the voting session, Aklin said she could tell the board would approve the Project M.O.R.E. plan, after the way Weber greeted the Moreland and Spell. “I just lost my battle.”
“As we have heard, Project M.O.R.E. is pretty much the best,” Weber said later, during the voting session. The organization is “very good for New Haven,” she said.
The board voted unanimously to approve the plan for the new facility.