By SARAH KLEPNER
Red Bank officials Thursday night rejected a request by a nonprofit to provide job training to people with mental illnesses at a facility on Maple Avenue.
The borough zoning board, taking up an appeal, unanimously agreed with borough Planning Director Donna Smith-Barr’s earlier determination that Shore House would need a variance before it could offer its services at 135 Maple, amid a stretch of onetime elegant homes that now serve as offices for lawyers, architects, doctors, and other professionals.
“I like your program,” board chairwoman Lauren Nicosia told Shore House representatives. “I just don’t like it there.”
She suggested that it would be better located in the medical zone near Riverview Medical Center.
Shore House aims to enable people who struggle with mental health issues to participate in more fully in society through a job training program that’s run by people living with schizophrenia, biopolar disorder, and major depression and supported by others with backgrounds in mental health care.
The organization is a part of a global non-governmental organization called Clubhouse International. Originating in New York City, the 65 year-old Clubhouse has 300 incarnations in 32 countries.
For the past year, Shore House has been operating out of the Womans Club of Red Bank two days a week, but is now seeking its own digs. At the Woman’s Club, participants have to set up and break down operations each time they’re there.
“We are exceedingly grateful to the Woman’s Club for their generosity,” aid Pauline Nicholls, a consultant with background in social work who has been developing Clubhouse programs globally for 30 years. “But we want to expand.”
Shore House’s attorney, Phillip San Filippo, said the functioning of the office is similar to that of a real estate office, where people come and go throughout the day. He also noted that because Shore House would be renting the space, property taxes would continue to flow to the town, despite Shore House’s non-profit status.
But board attorney Kevin Williams expressed concern about setting a precedent by overturning zoning officer Donna Barr’s decision.
“We are very disappointed in the board’s decision,” Nicholls said afterward. “This is not a clinical facility. There’s so much stigma surrounding issues of mental illness.”
She said the organization has been meeting with state agencies as part of its expansion in New Jersey and has been invited to submit a paper to the governor’s office explaining the Clubhouse model, which is entirely privately funded, through businesses, foundations, and individuals.
About 15 supporters board members and other donors were in attendance.