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  • Bangor Daily News

    Ellsworth approves license for controversial housing facility

    By Bill Trotter,


    The Ellsworth City Council has approved a business license for a controversial lodging establishment that caters to people looking to get back on their feet from substance use disorder and other issues.

    The Sanctuary Inn apartment building on Birch Avenue has been the subject of complaints from neighbors who say that its tenants have caused problems on their residential street. They have complained of public drunkenness, drug and alcohol paraphernalia being found in the street, and generally disruptive behavior.

    After hearing from the establishment’s owner, who said he has gotten strict with his tenants’ behavior, the council voted 6-1 Monday in favor of granting the license. It did so even though the owner had skipped getting the required license when he first bought the property last year. Steve O’Halloran was the only councilor to vote against granting the license.

    “I hear everybody’s concerns,” said Armelindo Shahha, the owner of the facility that used to serve as a nursing home. He said he does not allow drinking or drugs on the property, or overnight visitors, and requires tenants to sign an agreement to follow the rules when they move in,

    “I have kicked people out that don’t follow the rules and have been a disturbance to the neighbors,” Shahha said. “We’ve had a rough start, but we are getting there.”

    The city council first discussed the issue at its meeting in March, when neighbors told councilors that people came and went from the building at all hours, making noise and smoking marijuana that they could smell in their houses. Some called for The Sanctuary to be shut down.

    Shahha did not realize he had to get a new license in his name from the city when he bought the former nursing home, he said Monday. Neighbors argued that ignorance of the law was not a valid reason for not having a license, and that the city needed to do something to make sure they feel safe.

    Since the March council meeting, there has been less commotion in the neighborhood, some neighbors said.

    “It has been quiet, but there are no guarantees that it won’t return to what happened,” neighbor Juditch Felch said. “We can’t have another drug house.”

    Troy Bires, Ellsworth’s interim police chief, said that so far this year, police had received nearly two dozen calls about issues at The Sanctuary. Twice officers have responded to overdoses, and twice they have checked on compliance issues with convicted sex offenders, he said. The other calls were fairly routine and do not stand out compared to what’s reported elsewhere in the city.

    Some people spoke in favor of granting the license. The issue of drug abuse is a societal problem, in Ellsworth and beyond, and The Sanctuary is providing a key service to people in recovery who are looking to re-establish normal lives, they said.

    Joe Soucy, a resident of The Sanctuary, said having a place to live has given him stability and helped in his recovery.

    “I’ve been able to rebuild a solid relationship with my daughter because I’ve had a safe place to be able to bring her. I’ve been able to find employment,” Soucy said. “Keeping this open for a lot of people is giving them the second chance they need to rebuild their lives. Taking this away from us, quite honestly, would be a cruel thing to do.”

    Michelle Beal, the council chair, said she felt the group should approve the license, given that Shahha has met all the city’s requirements for getting one. But she said that licenses can be revoked if a business doesn’t follow the rules or causes too much disruption for neighbors. Open communication and responsiveness between the city, The Sanctuary staff and neighbors should help prevent further problems, she said.

    “I really hope that this works,” Beal said.

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