NEW GLOUCESTER — Nearly 50 people filled the New Gloucester Meetinghouse on Wednesday night to comment on a controversial proposal to open a 12-bed substance abuse treatment facility for young men in a residential neighborhood on Intervale Road.

Day One, a nonprofit organization based in South Portland, proposes to use the two-story home at 934 Intervale Road it purchased to house males ages 14-20, and close its residential treatment facility in Hollis.

Several residents have appealed a determination from Code Enforcement Officer Debra Parks Larrivee that the facility is an approved use within the town’s rural residential district and is subject to site plan review by the Planning Board.

The appeals are being heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals, which voted at its public hearing Wednesday night to reconvene April 10. Chairman Ray Hamilton said the board has 30 days to make a decision.

The Planning Board was set to hold a public hearing on the project March 6, but voted to postpone the hearing while the appeals process is underway.

One of those appeals came from Michael Rawlings-Sekunda, who said Wednesday night that he lives near the proposed facility, and spent 33 years working in the child welfare field.

Rawlings-Sekunda raised concerns about Day One’s proposal, including what he said was a history of Day One residents running away from facilities.

He emphasized that his objections were “fundamentally not about the kids in Day One’s programs.”

He spoke about his past work with youths in recovery and said, “Kids with drug and alcohol issues deserve to get the best help they need to become fully functioning adults.”

“My appeal to the board is based solely on my contention that there are more appropriate zones in New Gloucester in which to place a substance abuse residential facility than within a rural residential zone, he said.

Rawlings-Sekunda appealed the code enforcement officer’s decision because permitted uses within a rural residential zone do not extend to the type of facility that is being discussed.

Eric Ritter of Intervale Road raised similar concerns about the zoning ordinance language in outlining his appeal.

“Our argument in this appeal is only a question of use designation by the code enforcement officer,” Ritter said. “We are not here, and we do not intend to call into question, our town’s readiness to help kids in need.”

Lawyer Thaddeus Day – representing New Gloucester residents Gail Kolda, Scott Kolda and Alexander Runyon – made similar arguments about the ordinance language while speculating about the backgrounds of the young men who would be staying at the Day One facility.

In an interview last week, Day described the potential clients as “troubled youths” who “put a lot of worry into the neighbors that surround this proposed site.”

Day One lawyer Thomas Schoening said, “We’re not here tonight because Day One wants to fight against the residents of New Gloucester.”

He argued that the Day One proposal is “reasonably similar” to other permitted uses outlined in the zoning ordinance for the rural residential zone, including residential care facilities and community living arrangements.

“I recognize that considered in their best light, these concerns about safety and impacts on police are really rooted in the residents’ care for the well-being and best interests of the community,” Shoening said. “But at the same time, those concerns about safety and police, they’re also rooted in fear, stigma, NIMBYism and discrimination against boys with substance use disorders and mental and emotional diagnoses.”

His comment brought at least one direct response.

“If this town feels that’s not a reasonable interpretation, does that mean that we’re discriminatory?” resident Dennis Beedy asked about the town hypothetically disagreeing with Day One’s position. “That’s kind of a scare term.”

Resident Laura Fralich, who said she works with youths similar to Day One’s clients, read a letter she wrote with her husband, Adam Gilman, in support of the code enforcement officer’s ruling

“With the growing opioid epidemic in Maine, we need to find as many ways as possible to combat this disease and move toward healing and recovery,” Fralich said.

Larry Zuckerman of Gray, a former New Gloucester Planning Board member, said he sold the property to Day One and was surprised that the organization didn’t make the sale contingent on approval of the project.

“I fully understand the emotions of both sides,” Zuckerman told the board. “Your job is narrow in scope … and I appreciate the leniency you’ve given everybody to express their feelings about this.”

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