Frederick County has settled a long-running lawsuit with a Church of Scientology-linked real estate company over plans to build a controversial drug rehabilitation center on Catoctin Mountain.
Frederick County Circuit Court approved a joint motion March 20 to dismiss the case of Social Betterment Properties International v. Frederick County over the former’s plans for the Trout Run property, a 40-acre site near Thurmont. SBPI is now moving forward with plans for an eight-bed rehabilitation home based on Scientology teachings that would operate within the property’s long-standing zoning restrictions.
The settlement agreement reached between SBPI and the county allows the company to “do what it’s been allowed or permitted to do all along, and nothing more,” county spokeswoman Vivian Laxton said in an email Wednesday.
SBPI brought the suit over a 2015 Frederick County Council decision to deny a historic designation and zoning exemption for the Trout Run property on Catoctin Mountain. SBPI had purchased the 40-acre property in 2013 with the intention that the Scientology-based Narconon International rehabilitation program would open a 16-bed center there.
That use was not approved under Trout Run’s resource conservation zoning and would have required the council to add the property to the county’s Register of Historic Places. Although the Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission recommended the designation, the council voted against it following a wave of public concern expressed during hearings.
According to a history of Trout Run, gates were installed on the county road that runs through the property to create a private area for President Herbert Hoover to fish. At one of a number of public hearings in 2015 related to the request to get the designation added, SBPI argued that, among other things, the site was a “rare surviving example of an early twentieth-century private recreational camp.”
Under the settlement agreement, Trout Run still doesn’t have the historic designation or any of the accompanying zoning exemptions.
SBPI still plans for the Narconon program to operate at Trout Run, just on a smaller scale, according to attorney Bruce Dean.
“My client, in the spirit of partnership with local government, has chosen to move forward with the operation of an eight-bed residential drug rehabilitation facility that will be operated by the Narconon organization,” Dean said Friday.
Narconon is controversial for its approach to substance abuse treatment, which prohibits medically assisted treatment and psychiatric services in favor of aerobic exercise and long periods in a sauna.
Former program staff and participants have called Narconon ineffective at best and traumatic and deadly at worst. At least four clients of the 200-bed Narconon facility in Arrowhead, Oklahoma, have died since 2009, according to The Oklahoman.
Narconon, meanwhile, sees its service as a part of the solution to the ongoing national opioid addiction crisis.
“We are pleased that we were able to come to an accommodation with Frederick County that will allow the proposed residential drug rehabilitation facility at Trout Run to contribute to the vital work of saving lives and repairing families,” Dean said.
Court proceedings in the litigation against the county have been relatively inactive since 2016. Frederick County Circuit Court judges approved a dozen extensions of SBPI’s deadline to file a memorandum of support for their legal challenge to the county’s decision. In November, Judge Julia Martz-Fisher stayed the litigation to allow the settlement talks to continue.