By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM -- The village planning board voted Thursday night to approve a special use permit to allow building a house at 88 Market St. for a residential program for recovering substance abusers.
On a vote of 4 to 1, the board afreed to grant the permit to New Hope Transformation House Ministries, which wants to build a halfway house for 10 to 12 women who have been released from rehabilitation but who would have no place else to go.
The board voted to table the matter at its Oct. 4 hearing, to allow the proponents time to persuade opponents, mostly neighbors of the Market Street lot, to support the plan.
The Transformation House program, from an independent group initiated by members of New Hope Community Church of Potsdam, held a meeting Oct. 15 to discuss the plan with anyone who wanted to speak about the issue.
But according to Planning Board Chair Ted Prahl, those who attended last Monday's meeting were many of the same people who protested the plan at the Oct. 5 meeting, and who were at last night's meeting to oppose the plan once again.
Prahl said he had to cut discussion short as many people wanted to discuss the arrest this week of people from North Country Freedom Home in Canton, a halfway house, on drug charges.
"The questions we had were about the clientele, the need for it, and finances," Prahl said, and he ran out of patience as one after another speaker wanted to raise the fear of an incident like that in Canton happening at the Market Street house.
"As far as the board could tell, they answered all our questions," and so it came to a vote.
"They still have to go through a rigorous application to the state agency that will fund them," Prahl said, indicating that there were many more steps to go before the house is built on the empty lot.
"The most touching thing," Prahl said, "was the people who spoke in favor. You could tell they had family members who had been in similar situations" to the women who would occupy the house, and supported the plan.
"I think that did a bit to sway opinion. They certainly did mine."