Residents of Amazon Park, interviewed by Seacoast Online, describe the Weedens far differently than O’Rourke’s choice of words and illustrated what brought them to the park and the level of service they’ve received which stands out from other neighborhoods.
Amazon Park is home to people from varying backgrounds, some of them in uniquely vulnerable situations. The park is seen as an option for people who have gone through tremendous hardships as well as those who cannot access traditional apartment living. Marlene Brochu moved to Amazon Park upon a recommendation from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2014 after a fire destroyed her home. Brooch said that the Weedens “took me right in” and that Weeden “supplied my furniture and everything. He made sure I had a living room set, a kitchen set and a bedroom set for my grandson.” She added that John Weeden “is one of a kind. One kind of a landlord you’d never meet in a lifetime.”
Resident Noel Lyons-Baker spoke to Seacoast Online about the sense of community she found at the park as well as how John Weeden helped her with transportation while she dealt with significant car troubles. “John saw me going to the bus stop one afternoon,” said Lyons-Baker. “He gave me a ride. He made sure I was in a vehicle within a month or so.”
Arnold Hartford, who has lived at the park for 20 years, noted that a more common dwelling arrangement would likely be nonexistent as a felon. Hartford was convicted in 2000 yet continues to declare his innocence, and due to refusing admission of a crime in a sex offender program he was jailed in state prison for three years after spending a year in county jail.
Weeden said that he, along with the park’s employees, provide assistance to the park’s residents in a number of ways. Weeden enrolled in a propane buying program that provides lower costs for the residents, and has also stepped in to keep residents’ electricity running during poor circumstances by offering payment arrangement plans. He is also known for preparing meals for the residents following a church service he holds every Sunday, although he notes that the meal is free whether residents attend the service or not.
However, Weeden indicated that he has his limits regarding tenancy and pointed out “at the same time, I expect them to carry somewhat of their own weight. When someone gets into me for two or three months, and I see they are not trying to help themselves, and not working with me, I do have to go through the eviction process.”
In addition to seeking to end year-round residency for the tenants, the city of Rochester took note of Weeden’s serving of meals and issued an order to halt it. Rochester health inspector Robert Veno said that Weeden lacks a food license to serve food to the residents and has no food service training or a health inspection regimen. Despite the dispute with the city over the future of the residents at Amazon Park, Weeden is complying with the city’s order to stop serving food and is going through the process of obtaining proper licensing. The earliest that Weeden may begin serving food is in June, following the next available ServSafe course.
Rochester regulations require “food establishment” licensing for serving meals to others. According to the city licensing is required whether the meals are free or provided for a cost, and annual health inspections are also required. Carl Potvin, serving as Weeden’s attorney in the occupancy issue, said that Rochester “has been aware that he’s had that kitchen for literally decades” but also noted that Weeden is committed to getting proper licensing.