Rebuffed by the City of Batavia, the leader of Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse is “moving in a different direction” to find a location for an activities gathering place for recovering addicts.
GCASA Executive Director John Bennett said today that he is looking at sites in the Town of Batavia, specifically mentioning the former Bohn’s Restaurant on Clinton Street Road, to house what he calls a “recovery recreation center.”
“It would be a place where those dealing with drug and alcohol addiction would receive support through social, recreational, fitness and sober living activities by connecting with peers, friends and family who both accept them and understand their situation,” Bennett said. “It all fits in with our pledge to try and save lives.”
GCASA’s attempt to place the recovery center in the former North Pole Restaurant (prior to that, the St. Nicholas Social Club) at 241-243 South Swan St. was met with strong opposition last month, both from City Council members and people living in that neighborhood.
Subsequently, City officials sent a letter to Bennett stating that since the area is zoned R-2 Residential, it would not be a good fit for the recovery center.
Bennett said GCASA has decided against any further action involving the City, other than asking City Manager Martin Moore if he could find another use for the building or help the agency find a buyer.
“We had to buy the building – there is no 'out clause' – so we’re hoping that it could be used for something else, maybe for teens,” said Bennett, noting that the Swan Street property does have variances for philanthropic and restaurant uses.
Contacted by phone today, Moore said that he will be talking to members of his staff, primarily those involved with economic development, about the use and/or sale of the building, but had “nothing definitive” to report at this time.
With South Swan Street out of the picture, Bennett has turned to the Town of Batavia. He said he met with the Town Board on Wednesday, and came away encouraged -- looking forward to getting something done sooner rather than later.
“The Town Board was amazing; very insightful and kind, and displayed an understanding of addiction,” Bennett said.
He said that he has looked at a couple commercial sites and the industrial park (in the Town). The former Bohn’s Restaurant is zoned Commercial, a plus for this type of project.
A sign on the wall has the selling price at $250,000, but GCASA has not put in an offer yet, Bennett said, adding that the agency’s goal is to purchase a building.
Bennett provided this reporter with a flier listing examples of events and activities at the proposed recovery center.
They include community cleanup and community garden projects; fitness activities (yoga, hikes, runs, biking, basketball, martial arts); art classes; peer support; cooking and nutrition classes; mutual aid and self-help meetings; games and live music, and special events during holidays.
“We have set up a CRPA (Certified Recovery Peer Advocate) program through the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and currently have 18 of them trained (to assist recovering addicts),” he said. “We also have relationships with hospitals in both counties and with the jails through the PAARI program (Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative).”
Statistics offered by Bennett show that Genesee County has one of the highest opioid overdose rates in the state and is high on the list of deaths due to drug/alcohol abuse with 34 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017.
OASAS extended a grant to GCASA for the recovery center, and is working with the local agency to push back the deadline, which originally was set at July 1, Bennett said.
While disappointed in the City’s stance regarding the South Swan Street location, Bennett said he's more upset by comments made by some residents about those afflicted with serious alcohol and drug problems.
“The unfortunate thing is how they painted a picture of people in recovery … things like they will lower our property values and we won’t be able to let our children out,” he said. “These are people like you and I. Some of my closest friends are in long-term recovery and they’re great people.
“Since then, I have received a lot of phone calls from people in recovery on the Southside – and they want their neighbors, who aren’t aware of their situations, to know they are good people.”
Photo: John Bennett, GCASA executive director