Proposed detox facility pressing on with appeal

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The company behind a proposed 48-bed substance abuse detoxification center at the former Bay State School of Technology property on Turnpike Street has filed a formal appeal of a recent building commissioner’s ruling and is moving forward with plans to open the facility, according to Canton zoning attorney Paul Schneiders.

“Yes, we are moving forward with it and we have filed an appeal,” confirmed Schneiders, who represents the applicant. “We do believe that it meets the definition of a ‘convalescent’ facility, and we have a bylaw that specifically allows convalescent homes in a business zone — and this is a business zone.”

Schneiders had previously sought a determination from building commissioner Ed Walsh regarding the proposed use of the property, and Walsh determined that such a facility would not be permissible, citing inconsistencies in the definitions of a “nursing or convalescent home” per town bylaws and a Medically Monitored Inpatient Detoxification (MMID) facility as defined by state regulations. The matter will now go before the Zoning Board of Appeals and a hearing date has been set for Thursday, March 22.

While Schneiders firmly believes that his clients have the law on their side, he also understands why residents may be concerned, especially given the site’s proximity to several residential dwellings, including director abutters on Russell Street on the westerly side and Turnpike Street to the north.

“It’s unfortunate and I completely understand the neighbors’ concerns,” said Schneiders, “but this happens all the time when one zone ends and another begins.”

Just as importantly, he said, is the fact that detox beds are “severely needed” across the commonwealth, especially in light of the ongoing opioid crisis.

“If you were to ask anyone in Canton if we should be addressing this crisis, every single person would say yes,” said Schneiders. “But facilities such as these have to be somewhere. We can’t just say. ‘It’s got to be someplace else; it’s got to be in some other town.”

Schneiders was also quick to dispel a rumor that has been widely circulating on social media sites — that his client was planning to open a “methadone clinic.” Whereas that term is typically used to describe facilities that dispense methadone — usually daily — to opioid-addicted patients in an outpatient setting, Schneiders said the facility his client is proposing would be more akin to a hospital.

“It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week nursing and medical facility to address drug addiction and alcoholism,” he said. “It’s not a methadone clinic and it never was a methadone clinic. And it will be tightly regulated.”

Jack Maroney, who was brought on as a technical advisor to assist with the licensing of the proposed facility, stressed that the building would be fully staffed by professionals at all times and there would be no “walk-in” services provided. He added that there would be video monitoring “all over the facility” and barriers would be constructed around the property.

“In terms of visibility, it’s going to be really innocuous,” said Maroney, who has nearly three decades of experience in the substance abuse treatment field. “We want to manage the people that we serve in a way that we can maximize the environment, and we want to create an environment that’s conducive to wellness.”

Maroney said he too understands why a neighboring resident might have concerns, but he is confident that people’s fears will be alleviated once they have more information about the facility.

“I’m hoping that reason prevails and that we can come to a reasonable compromise about how to best serve these people and the community at large,” he said.

To date, reaction to the facility on social media sites has been mixed, with opinions ranging from fierce opposition to passionate support. Many commenters on the Everything Canton Facebook group have expressed concerns about the facility’s proximity to homes and businesses, while some have indicated a preference that it be built in a community other than Canton.

Sonja Grauds, who is not a direct abutter but lives relatively close to the site of the proposed facility, is among those who are reserving full judgment until she receives more information and attends the appeal hearing. Grauds said the location does not appear to be ideal for such a use and said she would likely be opposed to the proposal if a variance is required.

“Basically I am typically against variances for businesses in residentially zoned areas because I don’t like the precedent they set,” she explained in an email. “You should be able to buy a house and be fairly confident that your property won’t be encroached on by non-houses that will impact your property’s value in ways that are unpredictable, especially when Canton has plenty of empty buildings in business zones all over town that should be the focus of economic development.”

Grauds also questioned the applicant’s interpretation of the facility as a “convalescent/nursing home,” noting that there are “major differences between these types of care facilities and a detox.”

At the same time, she recognizes the need for such facilities and does not believe that a detox should be “off the table in Canton.”

“It can’t be all other towns’ responsibility,” she said. “I think if one is to be opened, it should go in an appropriate place, and more consideration should be given to where that might be.”

The March 22 appeal hearing will take place in the Salah Meeting Room at Town Hall beginning at 7 p.m. To read the full text of the building commissioner’s letter, go to town.canton.ma.us/documentcenter/view/3371.

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