Approvals for recovery homes and Northeast Neighborhood improvements move ahead

A white two-story house
The property on North Main Street will become an addiction recovery boarding house operated by Strength in Peers. (Image from the city’s public presentation)

Local mental health organization Strength In Peers can now use a house on North Main Street as an addiction recovery home after the city council on Tuesday approved the rezoning of that property to allow for boarding houses. 

The property, located at 715 North Main Street, is owned by the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority (HRHA) and has been used by Harrisonburg agriculture nonprofit Vine & Fig. The housing authority will lease the house to Strength In Peers for about 24-25 years. Strength In Peers’ Executive Director Nicky Fadley said they could decide to purchase the property later. 

“This property is located just two blocks from our main office, so we’re really committed to maintaining this property as a recovery residence right next to us,” Fedley said. 

Michael Wong, executive director for HRHA, joined Fadley to address the council and said the goal is for Strength In Peers to acquire the property at the end of the lease term. 

Virginia Haverty, a Harrisonburg resident, also approached council concerned about how the rezoning would affect the house’s current tenants. 

“What’s going to happen to the people using this residence as temporary housing?” Haverty asked.

Neither city council members nor Wong nor Strength in Peers could answer the question at the meeting. Council member Monica Robinson echoed that concern, although the council members’ general consensus was to trust that Strength In Peers would not willingly displace anyone, given their reputation in Harrisonburg. 

“I know you, and I know there’s no way you haven’t thought about that already,” Mayor Deanna Reed said, addressing Strength In Peers. “I’m not worried about it.”

Vice Mayor Laura Dent lamented Vine & Fig’s exit from the property but supported the change. 

“As I understand it, there was some more deliberated transition going on, and the good news is it’s being passed on to a very worthy organization,” Dent said. 

Recovery residences redefined in city ordinance

The approval of the Strength In Peers facility also came as the council voted unanimously to include recovery residences in the city ordinance. The council had first debated this in December when attorneys representing a recovery residence in Harrisonburg, known as an Oxford House, requested an amendment to the city ordinance after it had been cited for over-occupancy.

Council members were hesitant to take action at that meeting over a part of the recovery residence definition that would allow children to live at these houses with parents who were recovering from substance abuse. The question over whether or not this would be a safe environment for children prompted council to table the matter until a later meeting. 

Since then, City Attorney Chris Brown has sought to clarify the purpose of recovery residences, consulting state officials and social workers with Child Protective Services. Ultimately, he said he found there were no safety concerns.

“It would certainly be better for a child, in most cases, not to be separated from a parent,” Brown said. “It could certainly be very traumatic for the parent, but especially the child, and it’s an incentive for the parent to go into a recovery residence, and stay there and stay clean and sober.”

Brown also found that defendants are not sentenced to live in recovery residences, but could be ordered by a court to live there as a condition of their parole. He also clarified that people entering a recovery residence are generally nonviolent offenders with low-level charges related to their addiction. 

Northeast Neighborhood improvements

City Council voted to give staff the green-light to fix pedestrian infrastructure in Harrisonburg’s Northeast neighborhood with funds awarded to the city through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Out of the ARPA funds, $566,000 has been allocated to fix sidewalk gaps that have been long overdue. Areas to be fixed include:

  • The intersection of Hill Street and Gay Street to the existing sidewalk along the eastside of Hill Street.
  • The intersection of Sterling Street and Gay Street to the existing sidewalk along the westside of Sterling Street.
  • The existing sidewalk of Kelley Street connecting to the walking path in Ralph Sampson Park. 

Another sidewalk gap along the northside of Kelley Street between Simms and Avenue and Hill Street was also considered but would require additional maintenance in the area before city staff could address the sidewalks. That area was left out of the plans as it would keep the project from meeting the ARPA spending deadline at the end of 2026. 

Roughly three quarters of the allocated ARPA funds would cover the sidewalk construction in that time frame, with money left on the table. The city’s public works department sought the council’s opinion about whether it should move forward with the projects or hold off to identify other areas where that money could be spent. 

Reed asked fellow council members and city staff to defer to her and Robinson regarding those projects because they both live in the Northeast Neighborhood.

“This addresses what has been needed in that neighborhood, and I would not feel comfortable not moving forward with this,” Reed said. “We should listen to what the people want, and I want to see physical improvements in our neighborhood. 

Council member Chris Jones also emphasized the need to improve sidewalks in the area which had been neglected in the past due to redlining in the majority Black neighborhood. 

“This should have been done by the people sitting where we are today a long, long time ago,” Jones said. “I think we need to fix broken things, fundamentally, and if you can get your tax dollar back — spend it!”

 Other highlights from the meeting:

  • Reed told Harrisonburg residents speaking about the war in Gaza that the city council will consider a resolution calling for a ceasefire. This was the second meeting in a row in which community members filled the  council chambers to urge them to weigh in on the issue. They also distributed copies of a resolution drafted for council. The public comment period lasted more than an hour, ending in a tense exchange between council members and the public regarding their role locally as opposed to international politics. 
  • The council also approved a request to subdivide more than 28.3 acres of land to dedicate new public streets and construct homes for the first phase of the Bluestone Town Center project. This will enable the developer to construct 106 townhome lots, 38 single family homes, and two multi-family,  which would include 83 multi-family units and 63 senior housing units.
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