Residents oppose controversial project

MEDFORD — Residents of a southeast Medford neighborhood hope the public outcry at a meeting Thursday night will lead to a compromise over a proposed residential community that would include families with members who have completed treatment for substance abuse.

"We accomplished what we needed," said Stephanie Reed, who is spearheading the neighborhood opposition to the proposed OnTrack Inc. project on Harbrook Road just east of North Phoenix Road. "We needed people to vent and to be heard."

OnTrack is proposing a 6-acre development, known as Generations, which would have 104,281 square feet of buildings, including 81 dwellings, commercial space and a 5,000-square-foot day-care center. The $28-million development would include 19 homes for families with a member or members who previously had gone through treatment for substance abuse and who had a proven record of social responsibility.

The other residents would be seniors who would act as mentors, providing a 3-to-1 ratio of mentors to former patients. In addition, there would be counselors on site.

Hundreds of people showed up for the community meeting Thursday evening at the Scottish Rite Center. So many showed up, Reed said, that they all couldn't fit into the room.

"No one wants OnTrack here," she said. "Even if they're model neighbors, the fact that they're there is a stigma."

Crime was one fear expressed by the residents, who also said the proposed project already is having a dampening effect on home values.

OnTrack officials have said the 19 residents will be mostly women who have been free of drugs and crime-free for at least two years and will be joined by at least one or two of their children.

Scott Sinner, who has a consulting company in Medford and works with OnTrack, said Thursday's meeting with residents was very heated and that some in the audience often prevented OnTrack representatives from properly addressing the concerns.

"They're very strongly opinionated about a lot of misconceptions," he said. "We would try and address their questions, and they were yelling out liar, liar."

The biggest misconception, Sinner said, is that this is a rehabilitation project. "This is not rehab," he said. "It is housing."

He described the project as a community where OnTrack residents who have been drug-, alcohol- and crime-free for two years can live in an environment that helps them merge back into society with the help of senior partners.

"The quality of the project will not be harming property values," he said. "It will be enhancing property values."

Sinner said OnTrack is looking forward to meeting with some of the residents in a more civil fashion at an upcoming meeting where both sides plan to have a few representatives meet to go over the issues.

"We are more than willing to discuss their concerns," he said.

Now that residents have had a chance to be heard, Reed said, a few neighbors are willing to meet with OnTrack officials to see if something can be worked out.

One idea, she said, is a land swap in which OnTrack could exchange the property for another in an area where it would be somewhat separated from the community but still close enough to town for the residents.

Another suggestion was to spread the housing throughout the community, possibly with rent subsidies for the families.

OnTrack purchased the property for the development in June 2007 for $2.35 million. Money for construction would come from private donations and public financing.

Reed and other neighbors have said they were unaware of the project, even though it had passed through several levels of city government. That only added to their concerns over the project.

"They took a risk when they didn't include the community in this," said Reed.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or

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