SELECTMEN NEWS: McCoy Calls For Special Town Meeting In Response To Detox Center Zoning Concerns

WILMINGTON, MA — While they’re the first to tell you they have no authority over the matter, the Board of Selectmen received quite a bit of news at their meeting last Tuesday concerning a potential plan to build a medical detox facility in North Wilmington.

Below are FIVE major takeaways about the proposal from Tuesday’s meeting:

#1) Town Manager Jeff Hull told Selectmen that Paul Kneeland, the detox center’s lead backer, is currently unsure whether he will move ahead with the proposal at 362 Middlesex Avenue.

“Mr. Kneeland is evaluating his options as to whether to proceed at this site or to pursue another location,” said Hull. “He is very mindful of the concerns that were expressed by residents at the board’s meeting on September 25th.”

#2) In response to a request from Selectmen, Town Manager Jeff Hull confirmed with Wilmington’s Town Counsel that the proposed detox center DOES fit the town’s zoning bylaw criteria under Section 3.4.6. (“Hospitals & Nursing Homes”) and would be subject to a special permit from the Board of Appeals.

“Given how we understand the proposed facility… we believe that it would meet the criterion given the way Massachusetts Law requires that such previsions be interpreted,” reads the legal opinion. “This makes the application subject to the Board of Appeal’s broad discretion to act on the application of a special permit, including denial, grant, or grant with appropriate conditions, so long as the board is basing its decision on evidence presented to it.”

#3) At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Selectman Mike McCoy announced he has drafted an article for a Special Town Meeting to amend the town’s zoning bylaws to disallow detox centers in all zones but general industrial. (A special permit from the Board of Appeals would be required.)

“Working with residents, I have prepared an article to call for a Special Town Meeting to make a couple of changes [to the zoning bylaws].  It’s to form, it’s legal, and it’s very detailed,” said McCoy.

Under the current zoning bylaws, McCoy points out that a detox center CAN be built in residential areas, including R10 zoning, R20 zoning, and R60 zoning, but CANNOT be built in an industrial area. This seems backwards to McCoy.

“Not only can a detox center go in a general business area and abut your neighborhood [as is the case at 362 Middlesex Avenue], but it could go right smack in the middle of your neighborhood,” said McCoy. “I’ve made a complete change [to the bylaws] and said no to every zone except “general industrial” with a special permit, which is where it belongs.”

To get specific, McCoy adds the language “excludes detox center” under the definition of Principle Use 3.4.6.  He then creates a new Principal Use (3.4.9) specifically for detox centers, with its own definition.  McCoy then amends the principal use regulations so that detox centers are banned in all districts but “general industrial.”

McCoy will need 200 signatures from residents to force the Selectmen to call for a Special Town Meeting.  He’ll then need a 2/3 majority vote at the meeting to amend the zoning bylaws.

Selectman Mike Champoux was appreciative of McCoy’s efforts, but didn’t share his desire to call for a Special Town Meeting.

“The idea of a Special Town Meeting — with the expense, costs, and logistics — just for this purpose, it seems like an unnecessary layer,” said Champoux.  “We can work together to craft the right language to put on the regular Town Meeting warrant.”

In response to a question from Selectman Greg Bendel, Hull noted that a Special Town Meeting would cost the town in the neighborhood of $7,500-$8,000, which would include expenses associated with Town Clerk staff, tellers, custodians, and police detail.

“$7,500-$8,000 is money well spent,” responded McCoy. “This will give a comfort level to folks who will be able to sleep easy at night… We could get it done fast in a couple of months.”

McCoy said he would consult with the residents he’s working with and will take his lead from them when determining whether to force a Special Town Meeting this winter or wait for the Annual Town Meeting this spring.

#4) In response to questions from concerned residents in the audience, Town Manager Jeff Hull and Selectmen assured interested parties they would know relatively quickly if the proposal moves forward.

“The application would first get submitted to the Board of Appeals. The Board is required to post notice for two consecutive weeks in advance of the hearing. The notice in the Wilmington Town Crier would include the date,” explained Hull. “It would also show up on the Board of Appeals’ meeting agenda, which is posted on the town’s website.”

[Editor’s Note: The Wilmington Apple also publishes the same legal notices directly from http://www.masspublicnotices.org every Saturday.]

Selectman Mike Champoux said that, when he found out from the Town Manager, he would directly notify residents who have expressed interest to him.  Champoux also noted the news would likely spread on social media quickly.

Selectman Ed Loud and Hull also noted that abutters and abutters to the abutters (within 300 feet of the property) will receive letters notifying them of the meeting.

#5) Selectman Ed Loud said that, based on his experience as the past Chair of the Board of Appeals, it’s likely any public hearing on the detox center proposal will last more than one meeting so that the board can hear from residents. Loud was confident “the people’s voice will be heard.”

A few relevant notes regarding the Board of Appeals:

  • Beginning this month, Wilmington Community Television is now televising all Board of Appeals meetings LIVE on the WCTV Government Channel (Channel 22, Verizon 38).  Meetings will then be rebroadcast and achieved online for on-demand viewing. Watch the October meeting HERE. KUDOS to Chair Daniel Veerman and Town Manager Jeff Hull on this move.
  • A special permit requires at least 4 YES votes from the 5-member board. Board member attendance can become an issue.  For example, member Thomas Siracusa missed the October meeting, resulting in one applicant deciding to postpone his hearing so he could be heard by all five members.  Member Jacquelyn Santini will be missing the board’s December meeting, while Chair Daniel Veerman may have an issue with January’s meeting date.  Veerman noted, however, the Board has the ability to change its meeting date to accommodate members.
  • This schedule on the Board of Appeals website is a helpful tool for residents. It lists the Board of Appeals meeting dates (second Wednesday of every month) and the corresponding deadlines for applicants. No application was submitted before last week’s deadline, so the matter won’t be heard at the board’s November meeting.
  • From Sunday’s Lowell Sun political gossip column:

AS CONTROVERSY surrounds the a proposed detox center in Wilmington, one resident is concerned that a Zoning Board of Appeals member may have a conflict of interest.

A resident sent The Sun screen shots of Facebook comments made in August by ZBA Chair Daniel Veerman, in which he refers to those suffering from drug addition as “junkies.”

Although the comments were not related to the detox center proposed at 362 Middlesex Ave., the resident said he hopes Veerman will abstain should the proposal go to the ZBA.

Veerman said the resident is entitled to the opinion that the term is offensive. However, he continued to say he didn’t find it sportsmanlike for a resident to take shots at him under the cover of anonymity.

“I have no opinion on the detox center because it hasn’t been presented to the Board of Appeals,” Veerman said. “With regard to my private, personal Facebook post, I have no comment. It has nothing to do with the (detox center) application.”

Wilmington Apple will continue to keep a close eye on whether or not the proposal actually moves forward at 362 Middlesex Avenue. Got a news tip?  Got a strong opinion and want to write a letter?  Feel free to email wilmingtonapple@gmail.com.

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