Harrell Street in Morrisville is what locals call a quiet, close-knit neighborhood, home to a number of retirees and a few young families. So when residents received a letter this month seeking a zoning variation to allow Lamoille County Mental Health Services to build a 15-foot fence for a state-operated mental facility, it raised some eyebrows.
"We all heard this in a rumor; that they're going to have mental health patients down here staying overnight. They're not even licensed for that," resident Shelly Nolan said.
The state is hoping to turn the current day use facility into an overnight residential center to house up to 15 patients that would have otherwise gone to the State Hospital in Waterbury, now shuttered from Irene flooding.
Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says the Lamoille County Mental Health site is ideally suited as a temporary facility. It's a former nursing home.
"What we are looking for is a temporary facility that will tide us over from where we are now with the Waterbury facility closed and unavailable to our long-term solution where the state will build a new state loan facility here in Central Vermont," Spaulding said.
But would-be neighbors say they feel the plan was sprung on them and have numerous questions. Jessica and Curt Barbour have four young children and live right next door to the facility.
"We are concerned. At some point we wanted to sell our home to get a larger home and how are we going to do that? Nobody's going to want to starter home when you have a mental hospital in your backyard," Jessica Barbour said.
Marvin Alexander and his wife also live right next to the entrance and can see it from their backyard.
"I'm retired we chose this area to live in seven years ago because it was quiet," Alexander said.
Residents have started a petition asking the state to reject the idea.
Spaulding says the proposed fence would not surround the entire facility and is only for a recreation yard. He says the center would be run by the state and insists it would only be needed for 2-3 years.
"This is not something where we anticipate the people of Morrisville will be in any kind of danger," Spaulding said. "I want to emphasize this is not part of the long-term solution we are still in crisis mode state hospital close."
An informational meeting on the proposal will be held Wednesday evening at the mental health services building.
The Morrisville facility is the latest in a series of proposals to house state patients. Spaulding says another plan to use the former Pine Ridge School in Williston is no longer being considered.