Some opposition, but P&Z approves drop-in center for young adults in need of support

Bridges…A Community Support System plans to establish a young-adult drop-in center in an existing retail space at 570-572 Boston Post Road. The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) unanimously approved a special permit and site plan review for the project at its Sept. 1 meeting.

Ramico LLC is the property owner, listing Linda Meisenheimer of Milford as member and Richard Meisenheimer of Milford as agent.

The center will take over a retail space that was left vacant when a tae kwon do studio moved to another part of Milford. City Planner David B. Sulkis said the board had to vote on the plan because it involved a change in use for the site, which is located adjacent to the Milford Parkway exit ramp.

Debra Gannon, comprehensive care manager at Bridges, said the center is intended for young adults ages 17 to 25 as a place to find resources within the community. Gannon said people this age may not feel comfortable going to a mental health clinic, such as the one Bridges runs at 949 Bridgeport Avenue. She said counseling would not take place at the site.

“This is a brand new initiative,” she said. “It goes back to some of the tragedies that have occurred. We are looking to engage the youth of this age.”

Gannon said the center would be open Tuesdays to Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. and would be supervised by a manager and peer staff. She said she would be there several times a week.

“It will not be a hang out area,” said Gannon. She said the site was chosen because it is on a bus line, saying that Connecticut Transit will stop anywhere along the Post Road.

“I don’t anticipate we will be working with a lot of youth who have a car,” said Gannon.

Bridges received a grant from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to pay for the program, said Gannon. She said there is unfortunately still a stigma for people seeking mental health services.

The lone person to speak in favor of the proposal was Ray Vitali, a member of the Bridges Board of Directors. Vitali said May is Mental Health Awareness Month and September is Suicide Prevention Month.

Vitali said that youth often do not get noticed “until they are seriously ill,” adding that adolescents and young adults are “markedly underserved” for such services. He said the impact of neuropsychological conditions exceeds all medication conditions.

“The earlier the intervention, the better the outcome,” said Vitali.

Two neighbors spoke in opposition to the location, saying it would result in traffic and parking problems on Roller Terrace, a dead end street behind the shopping center.

Errol Van Hise of 42 Roller Terrace, who also owns retail property nearby, said he lives around the corner. Van Hise said, “There is no public transportation on this part of the Post Road.” He said the tae kwon do studio and other businesses have left due to lack of parking.

“They park in my shopping center,” said Van Hise.

Van Hise said there have been numerous motor vehicle accidents in front of this site. He said Bridges proposed renting one of his retail stores, but he said when he spoke to his tenants, “They told me they would leave if I rented to them [Bridges].

Van Hise also expressed concern that the youth “could cause all sorts of problems for the area” in using what he called the “dead space” behind the stores.

“I believe in the concept. It is something Milford will need, but it needs to be in a better location without the dead space where there will activity where people can’t see it,” said Van Hise.

Cheryl Roller of 53 Roller Terrace said she was opposed because she believed it would create “a lot of activity on our street.” Roller said her cousin has an office next door to the location, and said when people used the tae kwon do studio, “they parked in her parking lot.”

In response, Kevin Curseaden, attorney for Bridges, said he anticipated four to five young adults at a time. He said some would drive and some would get rides from friends.

“This is being staffed by professionals from Bridges,” said Curseaden. “I don’t know what would be less intense. Retail would be more intense.”

Responding to Curseaden, Van Hise asked, “Who’s going to monitor this place at 10 to 12 o’clock at night? There is very limited parking. I don’t want them parking on my property and my neighbor’s property.”

Curseaden said that Bridges has policies for the safety and security of its staff, and said that what Van Hise calls a “dead zone” is simply a parking lot.

Board member Thomas Nichol said he counted seven parking spaces behind the building. Nichol suggested installing motion-sensing lights that would illuminate if there were any activity there at night.

Board member Anthony Sutton said, “I believe this is a very beneficial use for this space,” and said he thought there would be more problems if the space were vacant.

Commenting on the application, board member Jeanne Cervin said, “I think this is a very important asset and resource for our city.”

Board member Jim Quish expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “Bridges is one of the best things this city has. We, as a city, should support their efforts to make this a safer and better city.”