Frederick County and a real estate firm affiliated with the Church of Scientology are close to settling a lawsuit over a proposed drug treatment facility on Catoctin Mountain.
Attorneys for the county and Social Betterment Properties International, the real estate arm of the Church of Scientology, have negotiated a full settlement, according to documents filed Thursday in Frederick County Circuit Court. The county and SBPI have requested that the lawsuit be stayed, or placed on hold, by the court while the settlement is finalized.
“We’ve had discussions with them and hope to reach an amicable settlement to the litigation,” County Attorney John Mathias said.
SBPI purchased the 40-acre Trout Run property in 2013. The Church of Scientology intended for its Narconon drug treatment program to operate a rehabilitation center at the Catoctin Mountain camp.
Running such a center is not allowed at Trout Run under the county’s resource conservation zoning ordinance.
In 2015, the Frederick County Council voted against adding the property to the county’s Register of Historic Places, a designation that would have exempted Trout Run from its zoning restrictions.
The Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission had approved adding Trout Run to the register before the council’s vote. The Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals also approved the treatment center plan.
In July 2015, following the council’s decision not to add the property to the historic register, SBPI filed a petition for judicial review in Frederick County Circuit Court. The real estate company alleged the council’s decision was motivated by religious bias against Scientology.
The efficacy and safety of Narconon’s treatment methods have long been a target of scrutiny and added a layer of controversy to SBPI’s designs for Trout Run.
Narconon’s program is based on the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Scientology prohibits its adherents from seeing psychiatrists or psychologists. Critics and former clients of Narconon say its treatment method amounts to quitting drugs “cold turkey” utilizing exercise, vitamins and saunas.
In 2015, former Narconon staff member and client David E. Love spoke at a meeting of the Frederick County group No Narconon at Trout Run. Narconon’s program is based on pseudoscience and does not rely on doctors, nurses, therapists or counselors, according to Love.
From 2009 to 2012, four clients at an Oklahoma Narconon facility died, The Oklahoman reported.
Frederick County has maintained that the council questioned the applicability of the historic place designation for Trout Run from the beginning.
In September 2016, Judge Scott Rolle ordered Frederick County to release 39 records related to the council’s vote.
Between August 2016 and January of this year, Frederick County Circuit Court judges extended SBPI’s deadline for filing a memorandum in support of its petition for judicial review 12 separate times.
The most recent deadline to file the memorandum was Feb. 15. The day before, attorneys for SBPI filed a 13th motion for extension, requesting a new deadline of April 16.
The motion was denied by Frederick County Circuit Judge Theresa M. Adams on Feb. 14.
Attorneys for both sides of the case notified the court Thursday that they had reached an agreement and were close to finalizing a settlement.
County officials told The News-Post they could not release the settlement before it is finalized. Frederick attorney Bruce Dean, who represents SBPI, was unable to comment on details of the agreement.
”We’re working on it and look forward to being finished with this ongoing litigation,” Dean said.
County officials expect the final agreement to be finished soon, Frederick County spokeswoman Vivian Laxton said.