Tensions rise at Day One hearing, planners take no action

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NEW GLOUCESTER — There is no final word yet from the New Gloucester Planning Board on a proposed 12-bed substance abuse treatment facility in the town’s rural residential district.

The board voted 4-0 Tuesday night to postpone action on the proposal from South Portland-based Day One, which is looking to convert a building at 934 Intervale Road into a treatment facility for young men ages 14-20. Town Planner Scott Hastings said that Chairman Donald Libby recused himself from the discussion and vote because he has a family member employed by the nonprofit.

Day One has three residential facilities in Buxton, Hinckley and Hollis – but hopes to replace the Hollis location with the renovated site in New Gloucester.

The Planning Board’s decision to delay action until its next meeting on May 15 is pending an upcoming hearing on the proposed facility by the Board of Appeals scheduled for Tuesday, May 8. The Planning Board decided not to act on the application while the appeals process is still pending. Libby is also a member of the appeals board and did not participate in two previous appeals hearings.

The Board of Appeals previously voted 4-0 in April to uphold a February determination by town Code Enforcement Officer Debra Parks Larrivee that the proposed treatment facility is an approved use within the town’s rural residential district and is subject to site plan review by the Planning Board.

However, a reconsideration request filed by resident Michael Rawlings-Sekunda jump-started next week’s appeals hearing.

Rawlings-Sekunda was one of several New Gloucester residents who live near the proposed site and raised red flags before the Planning Board this week. Among the concerns were whether the proposal fits within town ordinance language for the rural residential district; public safety implications for the surrounding community; the safety and well being of Day One clients; and possible impacts on the area aquifer from a facility that will potentially have 12 full-time residents.

“Our appeal was really rooted in concerns for safety,” said Eric Ritter, one of the other residents that appealed the Code Enforcement Officer’s determination that the Day One facility is an approved use.

Day One attorney Thomas Schoening acknowledged residents’ concerns about safety at the onset of the meeting and said the organization “is open and ready to try to address those safety concerns.” Day One is also open to making changes through the site plan review process, which, he said, is “not about killing projects – it’s about making projects better.”

Schoening said the Maine Department of Health and Human Services conducted a site visit of the Intervale Road property and determined that it “could facilitate 12 residents safely.” He also said the organization agreed to make safety improvements, including a sprinkler system, 24-hour video surveillance in common areas, 24-hour staffing, and the development of an emergency action plan.

New Gloucester doesn’t have a police department, and the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for law enforcement.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said in a letter to Hastings dated April 19 that he reviewed emergency call data from the Maine State Police and York County Sheriff’s Office related to incidents at Day One’s Hollis facility.

“The information received revealed that there were a total of 96 calls for service over the period of 2013-2018. This equates to an average of 20 calls per year,” Joyce said. “These calls were comprised of 12 runaway complaints, 11 transports to the hospital (I believe by EMS), four assaults, two documented mental health cases, five crime involved incidents and several other miscellaneous calls for service.”

Joyce said in an interview this week that past call data couldn’t necessarily predict the future impact of a proposed facility, but he is not particularly concerned about his office’s ability to respond to any future calls in New Gloucester.

“I understand that nothing is perfect and nothing is certain, but it is my opinion that Day One’s presence in New Gloucester will not dramatically impact the public safety of the citizens of New Gloucester,” Joyce said in his letter.

The town also has a volunteer fire and rescue department that would also respond to any emergency situations.

In an email to Schoening, Fire & Rescue Chief Jim Ladewig acknowledged that any facility in town “is a concern on how it will affect the ability for us to respond to emergency incidents.”

Though he said his department is seeing an increase in call volume each year, Ladewig used existing data to venture that responding to potential Day One incidents “would be within the capabilities of our department at this time.”

The meeting Tuesday night, which stretched more than two hours, laid bare some of the strong opinions and emotions surrounding the proposed new location for Day One. Friction between residents and Day One representatives was more apparent this week than during the previous meetings before the Board of Appeals.

One resident accused Day One CEO Greg Bowers of lying to him previously about whether some residential clients come from the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, part of the Maine Department of Corrections.

Bowers and other Day One staff clarified Tuesday night that some of their clients are, in fact, referred from Long Creek – as well from community corrections and from families – and Bowers told the resident he didn’t remember exactly what he had said previously and “did my best to answer the questions that you posed.”

“We’re getting really polarized,” Ritter said after the tense exchange. “In my original appeal statement to the appeals board, I was saying that we really need good will, collective good will around a center like this. They need support, and they need to have a good relationship with the town and their neighbors. They’re not going to have success without that.”

Ritter also wondered why there couldn’t be a trial period where the facility operated with eight beds rather than 12. If the facility has eight beds or fewer, it would fall under a state-protected definition for community arrangements and wouldn’t require site plan review before the Planning Board.

Planning Board member Ben Tettlebaum asked the Day One representatives if there was a deadline when they needed a final answer on the project.

Chief Operating Officer Lisa Munderback said the Hollis property, which houses 10 clients, is under contract, and the organization needs to move before July 16.

Hastings noted at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting that the public hearing portion of the Planning Board’s discussion on the Day One project is now closed.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Day One CEO Greg Bowers speaks during Tuesday night’s Planning Board meeting in New Gloucester.

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