DEBATE HIGHLIGHT: All 5 Democratic Candidates Oppose Proposed Detox Facility’s Location In North Wilmington

WILMINGTON, MA — The proposed detox facility at 362 Middlesex Avenue in North Wilmington has been one of, if not the, biggest political issue in town over the past year. It’s no surprise that the issue found its way into this week’s Democratic Primary Debate.

All five candidates expressed opposition to the facility’s location, while stressing a need for such a facility in town.

“We have the same thing happening in Tewksbury. We have a [sober] home going up [on Fox Run Drive] and a lot of concerned citizens,” said Mark Kratman, a Selectman in Tewksbury. “Unfortunately, a lot of times these things come in with protection from the state in terms of where they can go in. That’s why we have to have a zoning bylaw to look at where these places are zoned. We have to work with the state and figure out the best locations to put these places.”

“I’m not against these [facilities], I think they’re needed,’ continued Kratman. “We have a big problem in our communities with opioid addiction. People need help. We should have services for them. But we need to zone it properly and find some place where it’s not affecting residential home values and those types of things.”

“We’re right in the middle of the opioid epidemic. I’m logging into Facebook and seeing people I went to high school and college with dying of overdoses,” said Erika Johnson, Chair of the Wilmington Democratic Town Committee. “We absolutely need something like this. I think it’s wonderful that Wilmington was chosen as a destination.”

“However, The North Wilmington location, as it currently stands, is not the best given its proximity to the schools, to the train, to the traffic on the street,” continued Johnson. “If you’re in detox, you really need a place of healing… I don’t agree with the location.”

“I’m absolutely opposed to that location. I believe it’s an exploitation of the zoning that’s up there,” said Dave Robertson, former Chief of Staff to the late State Rep. Jim Miceli. “The very first night that this was proposed, I asked the developer how many lots he looked at? [He said] 1. Why didn’t he look anywhere else in Wilmington? I don’t think it’s any different when folks on West Street raised concerns about the gas station. They want to make sure the neighborhood is safe and it fits the aesthetic of the neighborhood. They have a right to be concerned. I’m with them.”

“Working in [State Rep. Miceli’s] office, I know – first hand – how difficult it is to find detox.” noted Robertson. “I’ve seen how long the waiting list can be. It can be up to a week — which is life and death to a lot of folks out there who are struggling with these demons.  That being said, I don’t think the towns of Wilmington or Tewksbury will just thumb their nose, they just want to make sure it’s in the right area to do so.”

“I appreciate the concerns the residents have of the location,” began Judy O’Connell, a former Wilmington Selectman and School Committee member. “I will say the property is zoned for that use. From a permitting perspective, it appears it’s going to meet all the guidelines. I know there was a Special Town Meeting to change zoning, which will have no impact on that destination…. I will say there’s many people and families in Wilmington and Tewksbury that are struggling with addiction. Resources and opportunities for care and programmatic design to assist these people are needed now.”

“I do not think it’s an ideal location,” continued O’Connell. “I do believe the town can work together with private business to see that a facility can be put into Wilmington that’s going to be for the benefit of all residents in town and beyond. I think it’s very imperative that we as a community, state and country address the opioid crisis. I’ll be clear – I don’t think it’s the most ideal location, but I do think it’s necessary that we have one in town.”

“The bottom line is — wrong location, right idea, plain and simple,” said Mike McCoy, longtime Wilmington Selectman. “A lot of concerned citizens came to the meeting when this was proposed back in September 2017. There were over 200 people that filled that room. I’m happy to say I joined the group of the Concerned Citizens of North Wilmington. We all have a heart. We understand the opioid epidemic. But the bottom line is, under the old bylaws, you could open up a drug detox center in any neighborhood in this community. You could open up one next to any school.  You couldn’t put it in a commercial zone. So we called for a Special Town Meeting and we flipped it. We made a change to go from all residential to a commercial zone. There are a lot of vacancies in commercial zones. They could absolutely do something in that area.”

“When the Board of Appeals sees this, they should shoot this thing down because you have to protect the safety and well-being of the inhabitants. Those inhabitants need protection and I was with them in the beginning, and I will stay with them to the end,” added McCoy. “No one locally has worked harder with this group to fight this. And I’m happy to say I championed [the zoning change] at the Town Meeting.”

Watch the debate, courtesy of Wilmington Community Television, below. Jump to the 20-minute mark to watch what was written above.

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