Peter Sheff, Waldo County treasurer and pastor of Abundant Grace Ministries in Searsmont said, "I don't think it could have gone any better," referring to a meeting Sept. 16 with community members and selectmen about his proposed transitional house.

His vision is to build a sustainable, transitional faith-based housing program on a wooded 2-acre corner of his 52-acre property on Route 220.

According to Jeanne Coleman, the board's administrative assistant, the meeting was well attended with some residents voicing safety concerns along with inquiring about the possibility of housing sex offenders at the proposed facility.

Sheriff Jeff Trafton was on hand talking about the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center and how Sheff's transitional house would be a natural extension of the reentry program.

Residents in the transitional housing will be graduates from the Reentry Center program, he said. The vetting process to get into the Reentry Center is extensive and sex offenders would not be part of the pool.

Trafton said many Re-entry Center residents become nervous as their date of release nears, with fears of falling back into old habits. The transitional house would be a "perfect" place to get residents where they need to be, he said.

Sheff said Montville Fire Chief John York asked about the possibility of having residents perform their community service obligations by helping out at the fire department.

"These guys love to give back to the community," Sheff said, and he thinks this could be an organic way to help the town. Many are gifted and have previous working experience such as carpenters.

Coming into the meeting, Sheff said he did not know what to expect. "I was happy Sheriff Trafton was there and eased the minds of many," he said.

One abutting neighbor voiced safety concerns, Sheff said, but, by the end of the meeting, "had a sense that it's going to be OK," he said.

Planning Board Chairman Peter Kassen said the meeting was "decidedly not contentious."

Kassen has said previously that the Maine Municipal Association's legal department advised him the Site Plan Review (town ordinance) did not apply, "so there is no apparent requirement for this project to be presented formally to the Planning Board."

"This project, like most others,will require permits for septic," Kassen said by email. "This is all done by the plumbing inspector, not through the ordinances over which the Planning Board has authority."

Coleman said a former Re-entry Center resident spoke about how the program had helped turn his life around. She called his testimony "poignant." He spoke about being incarcerated at an early age and the process it took to be accepted to the Re-entry Center.

Sheff said the former resident had served more than 30 years in prison, and now is doing "fantastic," having earned a bachelor's degree in social services.

"We want to offer them a place to stay for six months or a year, we're going to help them find a job they are suited for, we're going to provide transportation, and it's not going to cost them any money," Sheff has said previously.

The 6,000-square-foot house will have 10 bedrooms on the second floor, a kitchen, a private counseling room and living area on the first floor, and a staff family apartment in the walkout daylight basement.

"The next step is getting the money," Sheff said. He estimates he will need "a little under $1 million to make it happen."

At the Sept. 16 meeting, he spoke with Montville Code Enforcement Officer Bob Temple, who gave him several potential grants to apply for.

"Before the snow flies" and once the driveway is in, Sheff plans to move a 50-foot box trailer in his yard to the new house location on Route 220 to store donated items for the program.

In an email to the Journal, Sheriff Trafton said, "I believe we need many more of these transitional homes for folks leaving incarceration.

"We call it a warm hand off," he said. "It is very difficult for them to transition back into society. Many are not completely ready when their time in prison is over. If we have homes like the one proposed in Montville, I believe it will lead to many more prior inmates successfully reintegrating back into society. This will benefit the former inmates and society as a whole."