WILMINGTON, MA – Last month, the Wilmington Board of Appeals held a public hearing on the proposed detox facility at 362 Middlesex Avenue.
Approximately 200 residents packed the Town Hall Auditorium for the 3.5-hour public hearing scheduled on Valentine’s Day night.
Love was certainly not in the air, however, as the applicants faced heavy criticism from a majority of the Board of Appeals and unanimous opposition from the 22 members of the public who spoke.
Bettering LLC, represented by attorney Mark Bobrowski and project engineer Ben Osgood, began the hearing with an overview of the project.
“The detox facility, with 48 beds, is designed to assist recovering drug and alcohol users wit the first stage of their treatment,” explained Bobrowski. “It will be a brand new medical building with a high level of clinical care from doctors, nurses, RN’s, psychiatrist, and case managers. It’s a private option for those who need care, rather than a hospital. It’s privately funded and won’t receive any state money.”
According to Bobrowski, security and staff will be “24/7.” The security will include a gate (if requested by the board) and a camera system, plus 24-hour medical and clinic supervision with trained security staff. The property will be closed (locked doors) and not open to the general public.
“It’s not a methadone clinic. It’s not a halfway house. It’s not a sober house,” continued Bobrowski. “Patients will only stay from 5 to 20 days. Visitors won’t be permitted. Patients won’t have cars on premise. Minimal clients checking in and out daily means minimal traffic.”
Bobrowski noted that Bettering LLC has good reason to open this facility.
“More than 2,000 people died in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts last year from opiate overdoses,” said Bobrowski. “This is an attempt to make a dent in that by helping people on the path to recovery.
Bobrowski announced Bettering LLC will not be the operators of the facility. Rather, it will hire a qualified operator who can attain the necessary state licenses. That hire will be made “down the road.”
Bobrowski told the board he is seeking two special permits from them which essentially accomplish the same thing. He admits the strategy is a bit redundant, but he is trying to be “legally strategic.”
“The first one is simply a special permit under your use table (housing, nursing home, and convalesces home), which requires a special permit as if it as new facility up and running for the first time,” explained Bobrowski. “But because there was an existing building on the site that was razed approximately 2 years ago, we also seek a special permit under section 6.1.3 and 6.1.4, which allow for the reconstruction of a non-conforming structure with a change of use.”
Bobrowski noted he’s already submitted a preliminary plan to the Planning Board, which has been approved. There is now a 7-month window to submit a definitive plan, which, if endorsed by the Planning Board, will freeze the zoning, preserving the old zoning prior to the Special Town Meeting.
Bobrowski said the purpose of tonight’s meeting is introducing board members to the facility and learn what the board needs in the way of additional information, like a traffic study.
“I didn’t come here tonight expecting to have the hearing close,” said Bobrowski. “We view this as an evolving process, not an application that you’re going to look at in one night. What we’re trying to do here is very good.”
“Regarding traffic, we’re perfectly happen to engage a traffic engineer and give you that report at the next session. And we’re perfectly happy to pay for your peer review if you require it.”
In response to a question from Chairman Dan Veerman, Bobrowski stated a traffic report – which would look at crash data, site distance, parking, fire truck access – could be done in 2 weeks and peer reviewed in another 2 weeks. Bobrowski said he would prefer a traffic study ($6,000) rather than a full-blown traffic study ($20,000), since the patients won’t have cars, visitors aren’t permitted, and staff totals just 20-30 employees.
Bobrowski intends to bring a specialist in detox facilities to the next session.
“This would be someone who can go into more detail than I am certainly capable of, giving you detailed answers on issues such a security.”
Bobrowski noted there was an informational session with the neighbors held at the police station 2-3 weeks ago. 12 resident turned out and, based on the conversation, a list of questions was developed. Each question will eventually be addressed by the aforementioned specialist.
Bobrowski also notified the board he would like to talk about applying for a third special permit to minimize the plan’s amount of asphalt and have less parking than the building otherwise would require under the formula (48 spots).
Bobrowski expressed a willingness to have the accessory building in the back of the property knocked down if necessary.
Project Engineer Ben Osgood noted that the facility is a 2-story, 17,000 square feet building.
“We’re trying to be as neighbor friendly as we can and keep things as far removed from the neighbors as we can,” said Osgood, noting the latest modified plans calls for an elimination of some of the parking in the rear of the site. The septic system would be behind the building, beneath the parking lot.
“By reducing the number of parking spaces, we can bring the building forward, move the septic forward, and have more buffer between the building and the neighborhood,” explained Osgood.
This modified plan would require waivers by the Planning Board from the subdivision rules and regulations.
“We’re prepared to submit a planning board definitive plan that doesn’t need waivers, but we think it’s in everyone’s interest to do a better job of designing it,” said Osgood. “We’ve got a ‘muscle plan’ that meets every planning board rule & regulations, but we don’t want to build that. We want to hear from you, then go back to the Planning Board, and have a better design that we can finalize in three contexts – definitive plan, site plan and special permit application.”
BOARD MEMBERS QUESTIONS & COMMENTS
The Board of Appeals, particularly members Thomas Siracusa, Jacquelyn Santini and Ray Lepore, were concerned with the applicants’ approach to the meeting, coming in without a completed plan while lacking information and answers.
“Where I’m not clear is you come in front of the board and you want a special permit, yet you’re saying the board needs other things before we can vote on it. So why aren’t these other things before the board?,” asked Siracua. “We’re not in a position here to build your defense… If you’re coming before the board with a special permit request, you need to come in complete.”
“I’m not going to spend $20,000 on a traffic study without talking to you first… It would be foolish for me to do so in advance,” responded Bobrowski. “Now that I’ve talked to you, I’d like you to make a decision if I can get by with a $6,000-$8,000 traffic study.”
“We’re not here so you’re going to get a Special Permit and we’re going to help you get there. You have to come before this board prepared with everything checked off,” said Siracusa, picking up the conversation a few minutes later. “If we have questions and you don’t have the answers, there’s a continuance. But to come before the board and want opinions, to me is unacceptable…. You’re coming totally unprepared and you’re trying to bait us to give you things you need to get this through.”
“Not at all,” replied Bobrowski. “We can submit that formal plan if we have to and will design off that [unmodified] plan if you want. We don’t want to build that, but we will if we have to.”
Siracusa’s colleague, Ray Lepore, was equally unimpressed with the plans.
“You’ve had a month [to prepare a presentation]. We have homeowners come in with pretty good packets. They’re prepared. You’re using us as a pawn…. You’re saying we can’t deny you because you’ll keep coming back, saying we’re working with ‘ya,” said Lepore. “But that’s not how it should go. You’re the professionals. You should be giving us all the information up front so we can look through it. I shouldn’t have to down to Town Hall to find out how many septic failures on that property, or what the frontage is. We don’t even know the height of the building yet?”
“The point is,” Lepore said later on, “I would have liked to have seen a lot more information tonight. You gave us a beautiful picture of a building… Let’s see the details.”
“We’re not trying to play rope-a-dope here with you. We’re trying to work with you,” responded Bobrowski.
“We have a lot of people here tonight. They want to see information. They want to hear information. They want the facts. You should be giving us the facts. Where are the facts?,” said Lepore.
“The building that was taken down was 9800 square feet. This building is almost double that. And the site has had plenty of septic issues,” said Lepore.
Lepore noted that in 2000, with a building half the size and no public restrooms, the septic system on the site failed. Within 4-5 years, a new septic system failed again, with sewage blown out of the ground. He coupled those concerns with worries over inconsistent soil and an inconsistent water table.
“48 beds. 24/7 with staff. I can’t see how any septic system is going to address these problems,” warned Lepore.
Osgood responded that recent soil testing has indicated the soil isn’t bad. He didn’t disagree with Lepore, however, that he previous systems were put in well or well maintained. Osgood said the project will go in front of the town’s Board of Health to get the septic system approved and will then meet the necessary MassDEP requirements.
Chairman Dan Veerman pointed out the septic issues aren’t in the Board of Appeals’ purview, but rather the Board of Health.
“We’ve never entertained a septic issue. We always defer to the Board of Health,” said Veerman. “I don’t want to treat this applicant different than any other applicant.”
BOA member Tony Barletta pointed out that site plan review hasn’t started yet and the applicant will show the Planning Board a septic design and water retention design that meets code.
Like Siracusa and Lepore, BOA member Jacquelyn Santini took issue with the presentation as well.
“This site is such a sensitive area. This auditorium is full with concerned citizens of Wilmington,” said Santini. “I, honestly, feel that plan has been piecemealed together.”
In response to Santini’s question about, on average, how many patients check out early at these types of detox facilities, Bobrowski could not provide an answer, but said the expert present at the next session will.
“What possessed you to say this would be a great place for a detox center?,” questioned Santini.
“The proponent, Paul Kneeland, believes in this strongly. He thinks it’s a legacy,” said Bobrowski. “He is troubled the opiate crisis. He views it as his mission to address. This is the property he has available to do this.”
Siracusa, Lepore, and Santini made additional critical comments about the plan during the hearing’s public comments portion, detailed further down in this article.
Veerman and Barletta, on the other hand, appeared supportive of the approach that the applicants were hoping to take.
“I understand this is a symbiotic process,” said Veerman. “You’re looking for some guidance from us in terms of what we’re looking for, but you’re also indicating there’s some information you recognize you’re going to have to provide to us in the future.”
In response to a question from Barletta, attorney Bobrowski indicated he was willing to keep the hearing open while he goes in front of the Planning Board for site plan review, before eventually returning to the Board of Appeals.
“We’re willing to keep this open. We may not see you for a month or two while we go to the Planning Board,” said Bobrowski.
“I can count on no hands the amount of times we’ve issued a special permit before the site plan review process has been completed,” said Veerman.
“Right. My sentiments exactly,” responded Bobrowski.
“If you’re willing to play that game with us, I think that alleviates a lot of the immediate concerns the board has,” said Veerman. “That’s encouraging.”
Veerman and Barletta peppered the applicants with questions about the proposal.
“Why couldn’t all 48 beds be first preference for Wilmington?,” asked Veerman. “This particular facility is going to have a Wilmington impact. If it could be proposed that it cater and help Wilmington residents, I think that would be preferable.”
Bobrowski responded that he would make a commitment, to the extent allowed by state and federal law, that preference would be given towards Wilmington residents. He pledged to contact the state disability commission to find out what would be permissible prior to the next session.
“With regards to security, that’s an important issue for me, as well as for those living in the area, understanding that those who use the facility aren’t bound to stay there and can come and go as these please. That’s concerning to me,” said Veerman. “Is it possible, if someone checks out of there before they’re supposed to leave, could the community (police) be notified of that? I understanding there’s probably restrictions on what can be disclosed under HIPPA, but I also know that people can waive things,” said Veerman.
Bobrowski promised to have an answer to that question by the next session.
“Every type of facilities has risks,” said Barletta. “Are there risks based on this type of facility that you might anticipate because these types of facilities exist elsewhere? To ensure that the facility won’t have a negative impact on the community, what type of safeguards do you plan to put in place to mitigate those risks?”
Bobrowski responded that he has identified 6-7 similar facilities in the Commonwealth. He intends on contacting the police chief of each facility’s community and get a letter detailing performance and identifying specific problems.
Barletta also identified a “Catch 22” with the plan’s parking dilemma.
“I agree with the direction of minimizing some of the asphalt and parking,” said Barletta. “My concern, however, is that you make compromises to the site, and let’s say this goes forward and you put a center there, and in 6 years from now, it doesn’t work out, now you want to change the use of that building, my concern would be that you’ve locked yourself in and can’t increase parking.
Bobrowski agreed, noting the plans could call for placing parking spots in reserve for future use by leaving enough unpaved area that could eventually be paved as future spots.
“This is a very sensitive site that abuts residential. Were any other project types, building types, or any other type of development considered for this location?,” asked Barletta. “It might be helpful to hear what other uses were decided against for this site.”
Project engineer Ben Osgood acknowledged other uses were considered for the site, but was not at liberty to discuss, noting “I don’t disclose what I do for my clients. You can ask Paul Kneeland that question. He has looked at other uses.”
Before turning the hearing over to the public to offer comment and ask questions, Chair Daniel Veerman instructed the audience to heed the advice of Town Counsel.
“Town Counsel gave me a grave caution that we should not entertain any anecdotal stories,” said Veerman. “What I want to do here is have a fair hearing and preserve a good record. I want everything to be done appropriately and everything we entertain to be germane.”
“I want to make sure – whatever this board decides – whichever way it goes – that we’re going to make a sound decision that can withstand scrutiny at another level,” Veerman would later add.
Veerman also noted that the State Ethics Commission and Town Counsel have both cleared him to participate in the hearing after at least one resident wrote the board asking him to recuse himself based on previous online comments where he used the term “junkie.”
“Both say I have absolutely no conflict,” assured Veerman.
22 audience members offered public comment. Each speaker appeared to support a detox center, just not in the proposed location.
Attorney Bobrowski set the tone early in his response to the first speaker, noting that he wasn’t prepared to answer any security concerns tonight. He, instead, would bring in a detox facility specialist to field questions at the next meeting.
“So you’re not prepared right now to give us any details as to what steps you have in place or propose to put in place for security?,” questioned Veerman, which Bobrowski confirmed.
Resident Adam Hecht was worried about the detox facility’s location to school bus stops.
“What safety guidelines are you going to put in place that protects the little kids at the bus stop not less than 500 feet [from the facility]?,” asked Hecht.
Resident Geoff Wood echoed the sentiments of many in the audience when he expressed disappointment with Bobrowski’s lack of specifics during his presentation to the board.
“Why are we even having this meeting? They are so unprepared” said Wood, who wondered why questions asked three weeks ago to the project proponents at an abutters meeting held at the police station still remain unanswered.
Wood also questioned the narrative that applicant Paul Kneeland felt “forced” into buying the property.
“Everyone agrees a detox center is needed, but we don’t want it in this location. We’ve been saying that since the September 25 meeting. Kneeland wasn’t forced into this [situation],” said Wood. “He bought the land through a holding company in late November. But he owns land out in the highway industrial zone. He could have easily had this built out there without any problems.”
“Those are questions for Mr. Kneeland. We don’t have the answers,” responded Bobrowksi.
When Veerman asked if Kneeland intended on addressing the proceedings at any point, Bobrowski said it was “to be decided.”
Wood also questioned whether David Ray, a lead backer who previously pulled out of the project, was still involved. Wood recalled that at the abutters meeting, Selectman Ed Loud asked Paul Kneeland if he was still working with Ray, and, according to Wood, Kneeland stood up and yelled, “All options are on the table.”
Bobrowski repeated those sentiments, noting that while no operator had been chosen or any contract such signed, that “no option has been accepted or rejected.”
In response to a question from Veerman about when the operator will be selected, Bobrowski stated the board may not know the identity of the operator before it votes on the special permit. Veerman asked Bobrowski to get a “better idea” on that timeline by its next meeting.
Like Wood, resident Kimberly McNeeley also wasn’t happy with the lack of answers being provided.
“Look all these people whose lives are in anguish,” McNeeley told Bobrowski, gesturing towards the crowd of approximately 200 audience members, many who live in the affected neighborhood. “When you’re up here with lots of ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I’ll get back to you,’ it’s not a joke and it’s almost like you’re belittling us. It’s not funny.”
McNeeley revealed that at the abutters meeting, Paul Kneeland was asked what safety measures would be put in place when clients left his facility early, against medical advice? According to McNeeley, and confirmed by several other people in the meeting, Kneeland’s responded that it wasn’t his problem, rather “it’s the Wilmington Police’s problem.”
“We will do better than that next time,” responded Bobrowski.
“And [Kneeland] is right. It’s the town’s resources that are going to be drained. They’re going to get lots of calls,” said McNeeley.
“We promise, at the next meeting, there will be someone here, better versed in safety and detox facilities, than this civil engineer and this humble lawyer,” responded Bobrowski. “They’ll come and do their best to answer any of your safety questions, but we can’t do that this evening. We simply don’t know the answers.”
McNeeley also expressed concerns over the need for needle receptacles in public restrooms and additional security systems for nearby businesses.
“You have no answers. It’s not funny. We’ve been getting the rig-a-ma-role for the last six months. I feel so disrespected,” said McNeeley. “If this is built, we’re moving.”
“I wish I had more information about the safety plan as well,” admitted Chairman Dan Veerman. “If they don’t have a plan to keep this secure and address the fact that people can leave at any time, they’re going to have a problem.”
“[The residents] need assurances that their neighborhood is going to be safe,” stressed BOA member Thomas Siracusa. “There’s no security under this condition that will allow for 100% certainty. Something is going to sneak out of there… Law of averages says that it’s going to occur.”
Resident Joe Byrnes wanted more information about the facility’s staffing levels, including in the late evening/early morning hours. He also expressed concern about the impact the facility would have the town’s finances.
“What does the average medical call cost in salary, gas, wear and tear on machinery, and throw-away medical supplies?,” asked Byrnes. “I believe the facility will add significantly to the budgets of police and fire in Wilmington?”
Byrnes, a direct abutter, was also concerned with ambulances transporting patients in at all hours of the day and night, plus the timing of the necessary food, laundry and supply deliveries, coupled with trash and medical waste pickups.
Resident Kelly Richards wants her neighborhood’s safety and concern at the forefront of any Board of Appeals decision.
“Many in our neighborhood truly support people who are recovering from addiction. We’ve stated that sentiment over and over,” said Richards. “What we haven’t heard from some elected officials and some members of the community is that our safety is important too.”
“Everyone is afraid of being sued. Isn’t that sad,” continued Richards. “We can’t openly express our concerns and fears because of a business that’s imposing itself on our community and, quite frankly, acting like a bully, using a federal law to back them up… The federal law needs to be reevaluated to protect innocent people as well.”
Richards crunched some numbers and based on the initial figures she was given, if all the beds were full and each patient stays the minimum of four days, nearly 4,500 new individuals would enter the North Wilmington facility each year. If all the beds were full and each patient stays the maximum of 14 days, that number would still be significant – 1,251.
“[These numbers] sound more like a hotel, really,” noted Richards. “And hotels are never placed in residential neighborhoods because there’s a certain level of crime that goes on with them.”
Richards expressed frustration with Kneeland’s “not my problem” comments, referring to his attitude as “caviler” and “not good enough for Wilmington.”
“Wilmington is a caring community and that’s unacceptable,” said Richards. “I hope Kneeland will reconsider his proposal, work with the neighborhood, and build a business that is not only lucrative for him, but upbuilding and safe for our neighborhood.”
Richards concluded with a powerful question for each Board of Appeals member.
“Could you live with yourself if you voted ‘yes’ to build this facility and then something bad happened to any of us, to our children, to your friends, or your family who visit and play in our neighborhood?,” asked Richards. “I urge this board to protect the rights of Wilmington citizens, our safety, and vote against this proposal.”
Resident Gerry Bruno, one of the leaders of the Concerned Citizens Group, wanted to take a step back and ask a very basic question.
“Why is this a good idea?,” began Bruno. “You don’t have to be a rocket science to know there’s some issues that will be detrimental to the community.”
“The folks of the Concerned Citizens really do care about the victims of this terrible tragedy. We want them to get the best care possible, but what’s the upside of this location? What’s the logic of placing it in North Wilmington?,” continued Bruno. “The Master Plan envisions North Wilmington as being a ‘quaint little village,’ a ‘crown jewel of Wilmington.’ There’s so many more suitable locations [for this facility], what’s the justification?”
Attorney Mark Bobrowski responded that Mr. Kneeland has chosen this site for the detox facility and he does not know if there are any other locations that will be considered if this proposal fails.
“I’ve been a land-use attorney for 33 years and I find there’s always a better place to put things. And those places typically have opposition too,” said Bobrowski. “I wouldn’t be surprised that if we came up with a brilliant idea to put [the detox facility] somewhere else, at the next meeting, there’d be 200 people from that area here… These detox facilities are not popular.”
“This seems to be detrimental to our neighborhood for no real, legitimate reason,” emphasized Bruno. “There are locations open that would be fairly remote. People who are in rehab deserve quiet surroundings, not a liquor store across the street.”
Resident Jenny Charbonnier offered an emotional plea to the board.
“We are all in agreement that if this detox facility is placed in this residential area, abutting countless children, very close to a bus stop, across from a liquor store, it will have such an unbelievable detrimental, negative impact on the entire community,” said Charbonnier, as she fought back tears. “This could not be more of a wrong location. I’m begging you guys, for my two little girls – one and three year olds – please deny this.”
Resident MJ Byrnes urged the board to not act until appropriate environmental testing is done over the previous structure to ensure that the known petroleum contamination underneath will not be disturbed. While soil testing has been done around the perimeters, it has not been done under the original building site.
Byrnes pointed out that vital questions have not yet even begun to get answered.
“Their packet lacked complete submitted plans, environmental testing, storm water management, traffic study, and – more importantly to public health, septic plans,” said Byrnes. “The recent plans lack significant detail. The application is not ready for primetime.”
Byrnes also raised whether a portion of the property was zoned residential. While the building inspector has found that the zoning line and property line are identical, Byrnes notes that a second map, used previously at Town Meeting, indicates otherwise.
Byrnes also objected to another of Kneeland’s purported statements at the abutters meeting, where he said that “improving the neighborhood wasn’t his responsibility.”
“What a callous and tone-deaf presentation,” remarked Byrnes. “They also asserted that if a client were to leave, they would not take responsibility!”
“If this board fails to exercise its authority to protect our health, safety and welfare in this particular case, it would be an absolute bombshell,” said Byrnes, who also pointed out that the project didn’t conform to the town’s Master Plan.
“Zoning protects the character of residential communities. Neighboring uses should not clash, but rather harmonize. Zoning protects quality of life and property values by assuring that incompatible uses will be kept apart,” said Byrnes. ““If this board fails to exercise its authority to protect our health, safety and welfare in this particular case, it would be an absolute bombshell.”
Resident Adriana Reguera, a 20-year nurse at Mass General Hospital, made the case that in-patient detox is required for alcohol addiction, but NOT for opiate addiction.
“The current standard of care is not to treat with in-patient detox,” announced Reguera, as it takes over a year to begin to reverse changes to the brain as a result of opiates. “Out-patient, long-term medication-assisted therapy should be the focus, not a quick one to three weeks of in-patient detox.”
Reguera also noted that 91% of in-patient detox patients relapse, 59% within their first week of sobriety.
“The proposed facility is nothing more than ineffective treatment that does not meet the needs of the patient,” concluded Reguera.
Resident Kevin Brander offered a unique insight as the former Chair of the Planning Board and Master Plan Committee.
“This all boils down to a use decision,” said Brander. “In the zoning act in the regulations of the zoning board, the criteria is will this use be in harmony with the general purpose and intent of the zoning bylaw. You’ve certainly heard a lot of opposition tonight that this will not be in harmony.”
Brander pointed out that this North Wilmington location was targeted as a “neighborhood activity center” by the Master Plan, which is supposed to inform decisions about zoning. Brander asked the board to “strongly consider” the Master Plan’s intentions as part of their deliberation process.
Resident Susan Rogers wants the young families in her Shady Lane neighborhood to be experience the Wilmington that shaped her two boys, now in their mid-20’s.
Rogers is concerned about increased crime, reduction in property values, finding discarded drug paraphernalia in yards and streets, and a further strain on public safety services. She’s also concerned about the effectiveness of the proposed facility.
“If truly serious, let’s commit to a large scale facility affiliated with a first class hospital and doctors who use evidence-based practices in a more ideal location,” said Rogers.
Resident Curtis Gifford asked the applicants to study any effect the detox facility will have on students in town. He, like many of the speakers before him, was also not impressed with the applicants’ performance.
“They’ve not answered any questions,” said Gifford. “They presented an incomplete application to this board. I’d urge you to vote their application down right now based on its incompleteness. They’re using town resources to gain information to come back and manipulate the process.”
Chair Dan Veerman responded that the applicant was taking down all the questions being raised tonight and plans on addressing them next time he’s in front of the board.
BOA member Tony Barletta assured Gifford that tonight was part of a normal process. Barletta expressed an appreciation that the applicant was willing to work with the board and was encouraged that the board would eventually have enough information to render a decision.
“We came here to try and get a plan that’s going to be sensitive, as much as possible, as far the layout of the site is concerned, to the neighborhood,” assured project engineer Ben Osgood.
Thomas Siracusa shot back by reading some of the requirements the applicants are supposed to meet when submitting to the Board of Appeals, which they failed to include.
“Then why are you here?,” questioned Siracusa.
Attorney Mark Bobrowski responded that this more of an evolving process and he wanted board feedback so he wouldn’t have to submit the initial plan with more parking and asphalt.
“We’re here to what you have to say and vote yes or no. We’re not here to help you. You’re going to get approval or not,” responded Siracusa. “Before you get approval, you have to comply with the bylaw, and you’re not doing it. You’re wasting our time.”
Bobrowski responded by pointing out that the board seemed divided on this matter. Veerman and Barletta seemed to be welcoming the “evolving” approach, while Siracusa and other members wanted a plan with all the answers up front.
“You’ve piecemealed it and I don’t appreciate it either,” chimed in BOA member Jacquelyn Santini, aligning herself with Siracusa’s position.
“Do you feel when you came here tonight, you gave us a lot of adequate information?,” BOA member Ray Lepore asked Bobrowski.
“No,” responded Bobrowski.
“Then why come? We try to get answers out of you, and you’re trying to test the waters with us,” said Lepore. “I listened to you all night. All the people out there asking you questions and you can’t give them answers.”
“We’re not trying to manipulate the process,” responded Bobrowski. “If 3-2, you want us to come back on Marc h28 with a full plan, I’m here. You need to talk about that amongst yourself.”
“Sir, you don’t need to tell us,” shot back Siracusa.
“I’m hearing different messages here,” explained Bobrowski.
Resident Curtis Gifford reclaimed his time and didn’t mince words.
“This is an absolutely idiotic site for this use. We agree we need a detox center, but there are plenty of other spaces in Wilmington. This is just stupid,” said Gifford. “Any town official that approves this at any level is going to have to answer to the voters.”
Resident Jackie Reberio asked that the more extensive (TIAS) traffic study be conducted, noting it’s a particularly congested area during the morning and evening commutes, with both vehicle and foot traffic with the MBTA Commuter Rail next door. She also notes that the current area sidewalks are “unsafe,” “inadequate” and “a hazard.”
Bobrowski said that if the town’s traffic engineer wanted the full-blown $20,000 traffic study to be conducted, the applicant would consider it. Bobrowksi feels the level of service at the nearby intersections, which the TIAS traffic study would examine, is unnecessary with so few vehicles entering and exiting the property.
Reberio also asked that an environmental study be conducted and those findings be accessible to the public.
“There was a petroleum release at 362 Middlesex Avenue in the late 1980’s. It was reviewed by MassDEP in 1997. The conclusion at the time was that concentration wasn’t high enough to warrant clean up,” explained Reberio. “We’d like to know if any of the standard methods have changed Also, had accepted levels changed since 1997?…. And do the level of compounds present a vapor intrusion risk that was not evaluated for back in 1997?”
Reberio also asked if the buried tanks on the property will be removed and if any of the environmental concerns will limit the type or method of construction on the site?
Project engineer Ben Osgood answered some of Reberio’s questions, noting he already sent the site plan to an environmental engineer, who is currently reviewing records and will make recommendation for further testing. Any testing conducted will be held to today’s standards, not 1980’s or 1997.
Resident Tricia Xavier, who discussed her daughter who has selective mutisim, implored the board to focus on protecting all residents, including children, especially those with disabilities who can’t advocate and protect themselves.
“I’m aware of porches and cell phone towers have been denied in this neighborhood due to safety concerns,” Xavier also noted. “Clearly there are some even deeper safety concerns with this proposal!”
Resident Karl Sagal, a former Board of Appeals member, reminded the board that this proposal needs to be “in harmony with the intent of the bylaws.”
Sagal questioned why the facility was being built on spec?
“You’ve indicated there’s no operator of the facility yet, but you’re building it to a specific design. Where is it coming from if there’s no tenant?”
Bobrowski says the building will be fitted out at some point during this process.
BOA member Tony Barletta asked if there were any state guidelines that described what the rooms and inside for this type of facility look like?
Bobrowski did not believe so.
Sagal requested that, as part of the submitted security plan, the applicants address the extra expense the town will incur with an increase in police responses.
Resident Frank LaFleur suggested the Board of Appeals was being “too generous” to the applicants and, based on his experience in front of other towns’ boards of appeals, the case should possibly be voted down tonight.
“I don’t ever recall when an applicant has needed to provide something requested by a board member, or requested additional time to supplement their application, I don’t ever remember denying it, in my 12 years on the board,” responded Chair Dan Veerman.
LaFleur requested the applicants conduct a study on what kind of chemicals are going to be administered at the facility, in what quantities, and in what concentrations will be leaching into the ground water?
Resident and Selectman Mike McCoy publicly re-extended an “olive branch” to Paul Kneeland.
“If he choses to withdraw the plan [and relocate the facility to an industrial area], I will go to all public meetings and support Mr. Kneeland,” said McCoy.
McCoy then revealed that Kneeland recently purchased the Lynette’s property on Route 38, where he could hypothetically place a detox facility.
Bobrowski said he was unaware of Kneeland’s intentions for the recently acquired property.
McCoy recalled his days on the Planning Board, where his manual stated that it was the duty of the Planning Board to “protect the safety and wellbeing of the town’s inhabitants.” He asks the Board of Appeals members to uphold that same duty.
McCoy also recalled how Kneeland supported the rezoning of the area to “neighborhood business district,” having supported it at a past Town Meeting, but is now doing something “completely opposite” to that intent.
“The only thing I see relative to this detox facility is simply two words – CORPORATE GREED. There’s no other way to put it,” said McCoy. “It all comes down to this. We all do care. Want to see a drug detox facility to come in Wilmington. Only issue there’s ever been is one word – LOCATION.”
“The bottom line is… there are many other areas where this can be located. We need to take care of the people who live in this community,” continued McCoy. “There are safety issues that need to be addressed… Our duty is to protect the safety and well-being of these inhabitants. You have enough evidence to vote against this.”
Dave Robertson, Chief of Staff to State Rep. Jim Miceli, reiterated that Miceli is “adamantly opposed” to the facility’s location.
“Even if every concerned discussed tonight is addressed, the facility still doesn’t fit the tone and general spirit of the neighborhood,” said Robertson. “It won’t work there.”
Robertson also urged the board to look at the Code of Massachusetts Regulations as it relates to detox facilities to ensure the application is in compliance.
Resident Frank West reminded the board that it should take into consideration the fact that this facility will have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood, as each speaker previously articulated. He also re-asked a question first asked by resident Mike Shay – What would happen if someone wanted to utilize the facility, but couldn’t afford it.
“Given that this a for-profit facility, I think I already know the answer to that,” said West.
West also complimented Veerman on his handling of the public hearing, which received applause from an agreeing audience.
Resident Ted Hurley, celebrating his birthday, kept his message short and sweet.
“These two gentlemen [Bobrowski and Osgood] are not going to convince anyone here in the audience. Nobody. They have to convince you guys. And If you guys fall for this, you’re nuts,” said Hurley.
Resident Thersa Fallon was the final speaker of the night.
“This type of facility just doesn’t belong in this type of neighborhood. I have no problem with it at another location in Wilmington that’s more suitable for it, “said Fallon. “You people are out gatekeepers. We’d like you to say ‘no’.”
The board chose not to close the public hearing.
“This way, you will have the opportunity to address everything that’s brought up at the next meeting,” explained Veerman. “This was just your first bite at the apple.”
The board unanimously voted to continue the public hearing to its Wednesday, April 25 meeting. It will again be held in the Town Auditorium, but – this time – will likely be the only item on the agenda.
In response to an audience question, Board Secretary Toni LaRivee noted that any additional filings that are made part of the record will be posted on the Board of Appeals website under “Upcoming Meetings.”
Like Wilmington Apple on Facebook. Follow Wilmington Apple on Twitter. Follow Wilmington Apple on Instagram. Subscribe to Wilmington Apple’s daily email newsletter HERE. Got a comment, question, photo, press release, or news tip? Email email@example.com.