Safe house plans scrapped

An agency hoping to create a safe house for battered women in Woodmont has abandoned the plan, saying the location is no longer safe for the women and children who would have stayed there.

Emily Granelli, director of community affairs & government relations for BHCare, said the board met Friday and voted to abandon the project. Neighbors disclosed the location of the house at several public meetings and on a website, though Granelli would not confirm that was the reason the house was seen as no longer safe.

Also in recent weeks, an attorney filed  an appeal with the city, contesting approval of the safe house.

Attorney Charles J. Willinger, in an August letter, said he was appealing a decision by Assistant City Planner Emmeline Harrigan that the shelter, which would have served up to 15 individuals at a time, conforms with the city’s single-family zoning regulations. Willinger is representing several Woodmont residents.

The Birmingham Realty Group bought the Woodmont house in 2012. Birmingham Group Health Services is a Valley-based social service agency that merged in recent years with Harbor Health Services of Branford to form BHCare, which provides a range of programs, including mental health, addiction and prevention services, and domestic violence services.

Last January, Harrigan told BHCare that the house conforms to current single-family zoning regulations.

Some Woodmont residents did not agree, and they let their feelings be known at a recent Board of Aldermen meeting.

Joseph Schubert said the city is using “arbitrary interpretation” of the R5 zoning regulation.

Another resident said she looked at buying the house several years ago and wanted to make it a two-family house, or a single-family with an in-law apartment, to be shared by herself and relatives. She was told that use did not conform to zoning on the street.

Kelley Cummings argued that if the women who move to the house only plan to stay there temporarily as they await more permanent housing, they cannot be considered as “operating a common household,” which is spelled out in single-family zoning regulations.

Residents who spoke against the house said they are not opposed to helping battered women and their children; they just don’t think the Woodmont neighborhood is the right place. They think the houses are too close together, and that it wouldn’t be safe for the neighbors or the women living there.

“They can’t be safe in that neighborhood,” said resident Ellen Austin.

Opponents also argued that Milford would be compromising its zoning regulations by allowing the shelter to exist.

One resident spoke in favor of the safe house and said that all the opposition makes her ashamed to live in Woodmont.

The resident said she lived on a street in Norwalk where there was a similar house. Her father owned much of the property on the street, and when people asked him to stop the sale to a domestic violence shelter, he said. “I have four daughters, and I can’t say ‘no’ to something like this’.”

The resident said there was never an incident with the women, and that her 91-year-old mother, who still lives on the street, likes seeing the women walking safely up the street with their children.

BHCare is now “back to square one” in terms of creating a safe house, said Granelli.

The organization has no immediate plans for the Woodmont house — whether to keep it or sell it — and has no ideas yet as how to start over in search of a place for a safe house. Granelli said the board will discuss those matters at its next meeting.