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Permit granted for second Mandala facility~ RH June 30, 2015

Permit granted for second Mandala facility
By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli
Staff Writer | June 30, 2015

In a unanimous vote, the Rutland City Development Review Board granted the Vermont Achievement Center a conditional use permit for a halfway house to be operated at 77 North Main St.

The property — owned by the Rutland Missionary Association — will be leased to the Vermont Achievement Center for Mandala House, a transitional housing program for formerly incarcerated women.

“We’ve been waiting to hear, ‘yes, you’ve been approved,’” said Director of Program Development Cheryl McKenzie. “We’re very excited and very excited about the support we are getting from the community.”

In its written decision, the Review Board concluded that the character of the area would not be affected.

Additionally, traffic, renewable energy resources and the capacity of existing or planned community facilities will not be affected.

The Review Board cited 23 findings in its decision, including strict rules the women must follow, such as being inside the residence by 8 p.m. and in bed by 10 p.m.

Staffing will include one overnight awake staff member. The program is in need of more space for residents and staff members.

“We thank the zoning board and everyone else involved in this decision,” McKenzie said.

During the June 3 hearing, review board members — Al Paul, acting chairman, Jim Pell and Steve Wilk — asked several questions about the use of the property including structural changes, parking and curfews as well as specifics about the Mandala House program.

In response, Keith Tallon, district manager of the Department of Corrections Probation and Parole, said those accepted into the program have gone through a rigorous application and screening process.

“We have utilized Mandala House for two years now for eligible women,” he said. “We have had no incidents at the house itself; there was only one, when a woman walked away from an AA meeting.”

Mandala House is currently on the VAC campus on Park Street. It offers a home, counseling, training and education to 10 women under DOC supervision. The Park Street location will eventually become a step-down facility for women once they leave Mandala House, McKenzie said, explaining that the difficulty in finding affordable housing makes a step-down home an important piece of their program.

But right now it is too soon to talk about timeliness, deadlines and the transition into the Main Street property, she said.

“We will be meeting with the Department of Corrections this Wednesday,” McKenzie said. “We will explore our next options. We will sit down with the key players.”

The Main Street property, a large Victorian home, was originally home to widows of Civil War veterans.

Pat Mendevill, president of the Rutland Missionary Association board, said, “We can now help another group of women.”

The permit was approved with the following conditions:

VAC must obtain all required municipal and state permits, including licenses or amendments to permits, prior to construction.

VAC cannot make any structural changes to the exterior of the building.

Any alterations in the plans, including a parking area or any building on the site, shall be submitted to the Administrative Officer for determination of eligibility for administrative review and amendment to this permit.

“There are many questions left unanswered at this time,” McKenzie said about planning for Mandala House’s future.

kathleen.phalentomaselli @rutlandherald.com

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