None of the people who spoke against a house for people who have competed recovery from drug or alcohol addiction proposed for 19 Barclay Street in Saugerties spoke against the idea of a facility. They said that the proposed location was not the place for it, asserting that the neighborhood already had more than its share of such facilities. On the other hand, about half the speakers at the Village of Saugerties Planning Board meeting on Wednesday, September 9 supported the project as proposed.
The building, the former Knights of Columbus Hall, is under contract to be sold to RYAN (Raising Your Awareness about Narcotics), Inc., founded by Vincent and Carole Kelder. The acronym is based on the name of the founders’ late son, Ryan Kelder, who died after progressively more dangerous addiction to drugs. According to RYAN’s website, the organization intends to use the property as a “self-sustaining safe, sober, supportive home for individuals who are in recovery and are working to establish themselves back into the community.”
Ron Knowles, who recently bought his home on Meadow Court, a block from the proposed facility, said that it could evolve over the years into a treatment center. “If the state were to take it over, the state could do whatever it wants,” he asserted. He said that a proposed zoning change would allow something more than a halfway house, a designation the owners say is inaccurate.
According to code enforcement officer Eyal Saad, the proposed change of use does not involve a zoning change. The property is in the R-2 and R-3 zone, and the use is permitted, he said. The board’s attorney, Ben Neidl, said that the application is for a special use permit, not a change in the zoning.
Knowles said that many others had offered to buy the property, including restaurants, a daycare facility, a preschool, an AirBnB, a four-family building: “all things that could have supported the Village, I think better as a whole.” He also questioned the support that the project is receiving from people who don’t live nearby.
Miriam Adams, who lives on Barclay Street, near where the proposed project is located, said that she and her husband own a bed-and-breakfast business and that she is a lifetime resident of Saugerties. “I understand opioid addiction; I understand mental health issues. I am the mother of an adult child who suffers from mental health. Every day I worry about his well-being.” She expressed sympathy for the people whom the facility would serve, and recognized that there is an opioid addiction problem in this area, but raised a number of other issues. “Our property values range from the low hundred thousands to several million dollars, and if you look at any studies out there, property values will decrease significantly with a treatment center in the neighborhood. If it’s an opioid treatment center, your property values will decrease even more.”
Adams also asserted that the Kelder family has not shared information, such as a business plan, with the neighbors. Among other things in a plan, “You know about safety, and how you are going to address that. Adams said that she wants to see a clear plan showing how the property will be managed: “Until then, I can’t support it.”
Several other speakers referred to a lack of information, such as a business plan that would let people know what the proposed facility would be like as a neighbor, as a reason for opposing the project. “They should reach out to the community,” said one.
Ulster County Legislature member Al Bruno said that, as a legislator and a lifelong Saugerties resident, “I understand your concerns, and I think some of them are very valid concerns. But the best thing you can do is find out. There is a lot of misinformation about what it is going to be, what is actually going to happen, and very few people have reached out and asked.” Several people interrupted him at this point to assert that they had asked. “My point is that, rather than come out against something you know nothing about, find out first; and then, if you want to come out against it, that makes a lot of sense.”
As a legislator, he wants to be part of the solution, Bruno said, adding that he was at the meeting to support the proposal. “This is a solution; this is transitional housing for the people who need it. This is getting off opioids and becoming productive members of society. This comes from the grassroots, and most successful businesses in Saugerties and anywhere have started the same way.” When several people interrupted to say they had a plan when they started in business, Bruno noted that the Kelders have a plan that “will open your eyes.”
Carl Lezette said that he has lived in Saugerties all his life, and been proud of the community. “Today, however, I feel shame for our community. I feel human beings are our biggest investment — not business, not real estate.” He deplored the tendency to “put monetary gain ahead of the betterment of our fellow human beings.”
Comments that imply that former addicts are not welcome in the community “will not be forgotten by me, and surely not by them,” Lezette continued. “I hope that those who are spreading misinformation and passing around petitions reach out to learn more about RYAN House. There seems to be no interest in getting information about RYAN House…instead they contrive phobia of people in recovery.”
Adrian Murray read a letter that he had written to the Planning Board outlining his questions about the applicability of the project to the existing zoning in the area. He noted that the application described RYAN as a fraternal organization with an educational component. Murray cited the definition in the zoning of a fraternal organization, and said that RYAN House does not meet the definition. While the application says that the organization would provide rooms for staff and for paying tenants, “There is no indication of the number of rooms that will be provided to staff or recovery residents; there is no indication of the number of rooms that will be constructed. However, the RYAN website does say the number of rooms they are looking to build out.” Murray went through the definitions of the types of housing that could be allowed in a residential zone and concluded that none applied to RYAN House.
Suzanne LeBlanc, a former Village trustee, said that the proposed facility “is a noble cause; it just doesn’t belong here.” She cited the facilities already in the neighborhood, such as a housing development on Overbaugh Street, and two motels that take Social Services residents. Some have been taken off the tax rolls, she noted, asking, “Who okayed that?”
LeBlanc talked of people yelling and spitting, and while she acknowledged that she can’t be certain that they are from a mental health facility in the area, she feels uncomfortable around them. “We have given,” she repeated several times.
John Schoonmaker, a Saugerties Town Board member, said that some speakers seemed to believe that the Town or Village Board was involved in sales in some way, and this is not the case. “It seems some people don’t understand the scope of the job of the Planning Board. Their job is to ask, ‘Does it fit the zoning, and does it fit the use they are asking for?’ If it fits all of those, they have to pass it; if they do not, they are held liable.”
Schoonmaker said that he has lived near rehab facilities, and has not had a problem with the people who lived there. And, he added, “This is not rehab; this is for people who have already gone through the rehab process, who have a job and will need a little bit of help getting back on their feet…they’re not going to cause problems, they just want to get to where you are.”
Carole Kelder, for whose son, Ryan, the facility is named, said that she keeps hearing people say a recovery facility is a good thing, and necessary, “but not in my back yard.” She pointed out that at the last Planning Board meeting, her husband invited people to contact them with any questions or concerns they had.
“We have people that are backing us,” Kelder said. “We have people that will pay.” If anything happens to the Kelder family, the house will be sold, not turned over to the government, she said. While the family is not about to go knocking on doors, “We said at the last meeting, ‘Gather your neighbors together and we will answer any questions that you have.’ I even reached out to someone in the Town supervisor’s office and asked, ‘Should we have a public hearing? We haven’t even purchased the property yet.’ Yes, there were a lot of other offers, but the Knights of Columbus decided to sell it to us.”
She invited people to get together, pick a time, and she, her husband and her daughter would explain the project plan to them, including “what we are willing to do, and what the process will be.”
Kelder said that she can’t stand hearing people refer to the plan as a treatment center or a halfway house. “We are not a treatment center, we are not a rehab, we are not a halfway house, we are not even a three-quarter-way house; we are an opportunity for people who are in recovery.”
Finally, Kelder said that the family intended to restore the house to its original beauty, because people who are coming back into society deserve to have attractive surroundings, to know that they are worth it. In response to questions about how she could hold a job and still devote the necessary time to the faculty, Kelder replied that she is close to retirement, and her husband can run the place full-time.