The Johnson Select Board has unanimously backed a plan to renovate the Barrows House on Main Street, developed by Jenna’s Promise, a nonprofit group. The proposal is to reopen a coffeehouse downstairs with sober living bedrooms upstairs.

The Johnson-based nonprofit was started last year in memory of Jenna Tatro, who died of a drug overdose in February 2019. Her parents, Dawn and Greg Tatro, started the organization in hopes of helping other Vermonters with addiction.

Jenna’s Promise was seeking town support for an application for a $500,000 block grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help fund the project.

The housing will have six bedrooms for six to eight residents, all female Vermonters. The residents upstairs will pay rent and work in the restaurant downstairs. Holding a job is part of the recovery process for people struggling with addiction.

“Hopefully we’ll create a community that finds strength in each other and then stays within the community to give back, because Johnson gave them something, and now they want to do something for Johnson,” Amy Tatro said. Barry Cohen, a member of the group’s advisory council, also spoke to the audience of 25 people.

The Barrows House is the former site of the Dream Cafe and Lou Lou’s Coffee. Jenna’s Promise bought the building last year. The group expects the renovated space’s property taxes will most likely increase, Tatro said.

“We’re inventing the wheel here, a little bit,” she said, after an audience member asked about the precedent for this kind of facility. To the question, “What if there aren’t enough Vermonters to fill beds?” Cohen replied: “That’d be a good problem to have. Eight may not be enough.”

Brian Story, town administrator, will assist with the application, since HUD grants require support from a municipality. He said he plans to spend about 30 hours in total on the project. If Jenna’s Promise receives the grant, he’ll check in to make sure it’s hitting benchmarks.

Plans for the building and copies of the application are available at Johnson’s municipal offices.

If the grant is received, the renovation is expected to take about eight months. “We’re hoping to be up and running by the spring of next year,” Tatro said.

Upcoming meetings

• The Johnson Select Board and Johnson Broadband Committee will discuss options for expanding broadband in town on Thursday, Feb. 27, at 6 p.m. at the municipal building in conjunction with the Lamoille County Planning Commission.

“There are two fundamental paths forward,” regional planner Lea Kilvádyová told the board. “One is that you pursue these improvements in broadband access and speed as an individual municipality, or you join with others.” The third, she said, “is to do nothing.”

There are several paths to negotiate with internet service providers to provide fiber-optic cable to the whole town. Kilvádyová thinks that technology is the best option for “many years to come.”

• Johnson village tentatively plans racial bias training March 7 from noon to 5. The training is open to the public and will be put on by the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

Rebecca Flieder is a junior at the Northern Vermont University-Johnson and editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. This story is provided through a partnership with the University of Vermont’s Community News Service.

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