Neighbors oppose mental health residential centers in Fairfield’s Greenfield Hill
FAIRFIELD — Neighbors are coming together to oppose the establishment of mental health residential living centers in Greenfield Hill.
According to Certificate of Need filings with the state, Newport Academy plans to open two six-bed treatment facilities at 3236 Congress St. and 2495 Redding Rd. The facilities, which are separated by gender, would serve 18- to 26-year-old patients with mental health diagnoses and co-occurring disorders, including substance use disorders. Filings say that the facilities would provide clinical programming by on-site staff, and patients would be expected to stay for an average of 60 days.
These facilities would be affiliated with an already existing 53-bed Newport Academy location for 14- to 20-year-olds in Bethlehem, Conn., as well as an operating outpatient center in Darien. According the filings, the Fairfield program intends to accommodate the Bethlehem site’s waitlist, which averages 17 to 20 people.
Newport Academy confirmed plans to expand its Connecticut operations to Fairfield.
“Newport has already served more than 1,500 families in Connecticut, with 96 percent willing to recommend us to others following treatment,” said Kristen Hayes, Newport Academy’s senior director of communications. “We look forward to becoming a valued part of the Fairfield community as we expand our efforts to serve even more families in the area.”
Monroe RE LLC, an affiliate of Newport Academy, purchased both properties in January. According to town records, 3236 Congress St. sold for $3,250,000, and 2495 Redding Rd. sold for $2,200,000.
A group of Greenfield Hill residents have formed Neighbors for Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., a 501(c) organization with over 600 members in its Facebook group. The organization describes itself on its website as “a grass roots organization that opposes commercial enterprises violating zoning laws by establishing and operating businesses that are prohibited in residential neighborhoods.”
Neighbors for Neighborhood Preservation argues that Newport Academy’s description of its facilities as group homes is a mischaracterization entitling them to inappropriate special housing protections. Group homes, the organization says, should house permanent residents, not rotating patients.
The organization is concerned that Newport Academy is using the group home label only when it’s convenient for them. According to a Connecticut Certificate of Need application, Newport Academy has classified itself as a medical facility at the state level, while requesting group home status at the local permitting level.
Under the town’s Plan and Zoning Committee, group homes are defined as “community residences for persons with intellectual disability, child-care residential facilities, community residences for persons receiving mental health or addiction services and hospice facilities.” As per town guidelines, such group homes must be treated the same as a single-family residence.
Members of Neighbors for Neighborhood Preservation believe that Newport Academy’s description as a group home is an attempt by the company to skirt local zoning laws while maintaining a medical operating status.
“The economic motivations of big business should not be allowed to circumvent zoning laws that provide oversight of commercial activities,” reads a description on the organization’s website. “These laws help ensure that those of us who choose to live and raise our families outside of commercial zones are afforded the quiet enjoyment of our homes without competing with large corporations for available housing stock, recreational spaces and other resources that make our residential neighborhoods unique.”
The organization’s website also cites concerns about transient neighbors, increased traffic, parking congestion, lowered property values and declining safety. They’re particularly concerned about reports from Bethlehem that describe criminal activities by Newport Academy residents.
In response to the argument presented by Neighbors for Neighborhood Preservation, Hayes asserted that Newport Academy is following all legal requirements in its application process.
“As with each home in all of our partner communities, Newport Academy abides by all applicable laws and regulations, and will continue to do so to create additional top-quality, fully accredited resources dedicated to helping teens and young adults lead healthier lives,” Hayes said.
Hayes maintained that as group homes, the facilities will be impactful and effective for patients.
“Group homes are a critical part of the mental health treatment infrastructure, as proven by the fact that hundreds operate today across the entire state, including several currently in Fairfield,” she said.
Neighbors for Neighborhood Preservation is working to legally fight the state’s approval of Newport Academy in Fairfield. The organization is asking people to reach out to state representatives with concerns, as well as donate to a Gofundme page to support legal fees and local advertising. As of press time, the Gofundme had raised $23,880.
The group has also placed signs around Greenfield Hill declaring “no overnight medical facilities in residential zones” and “medical facilities don’t belong in residential zones.” The signs specifically call out Carlyle Group, an investment and private equity firm with stakes in Newport Academy.
Newport and Carlyle are closely connected. According to documents obtained via a Freedom of Information filing, four out of seven members of Newport Academy’s Board of Directors are also managing directors of the Carlyle Group. Carlyle Group did not respond to a request for comment.
Newport Academy’s Certificate of Need application is currently under review by the Connecticut Office of Health Strategy. The next step will be a public hearing with the local community in Fairfield, which OHS will announce at least two weeks before its scheduled date.