By Jamie Wiggan
Officials are undecided over plans to headquarter a start-up recovery support service in McKees Rocks, with some raising concerns about the site’s parking availability and the community’s history with problematic rehabilitation programs.
Presenting to the borough’s planning commission Sept. 2, Randall Williams, founder of Recovery Support Worx, outlined plans to turn the first-floor unit of 300 Catherine St. into an office space for a county-wide support service for recovering addicts.
Williams said his model supplements clinical recovery programs by providing referrals with “rounded support” and life-skills training.
“This service is much-needed in the McKees Rocks area because there’s nothing like it around,” he said.
Williams said he previously worked for another organization that used a similar model and decided to form Recovery Support Worx in an effort to expand the service’s reach. His programming would be available to all Allegheny County residents, but he identifies an immediate need in the McKees Rocks community.
“We would just like to change the face of McKees Rocks and give it a fresh start,” he said. “And it starts with the people in it.”
The planning commission did not immediately vote on whether to recommend the project. During a later interview, Chairman Ken Perl said the committee had requested a copy of the business proposal before taking any next steps.
The planning commission has no formal powers to deny or approve development projects but serves as an advisory body to the borough’s council and zoning appeals board.
Although it formerly housed a tattoo shop, the property in question is currently zoned residential and will require a variance from the zoning appeals board before Williams can operate a business there.
Questioning from committee members indicated some reservations.
“It seems like [the property’s parking lot] is not big enough to accommodate a staff of 15 people,” said James Levendosky. “…We have to consider details like parking spaces.”
Williams said he expects to begin with a team of around five employees, and would look to build up to a maximum of 15. He said it’s unlikely the entire team would ever be in the office at a given time, due to the nature of the work.
“It’s a community-based service,” he said. “I would actually be using 300 Catherine as an administrative office only.”
Although not on the planning commission, Mayor Jack Muhr weighed in during public comment. He cited a problematic rehabilitation service he said was operating without a permit until he shut it down last year, and pressed Williams to assure his operation would not lead to similar issues.
“One of the biggest problems was people loitering out front,” Muhr said of the former facility. “We had people waiting in line to get in there, and that cannot happen down there in McKees Rocks Bottoms.”
Williams told the committee his service will not supply prescriptions and said the majority of interaction with clients will take place in third-party locations, such as libraries and outdoor parks.
"Ninety percent of the time there will be no participants [in the office],” he said.