A substance abuse rehabilitation center associated with the Church of Scientology will not be able to open at Trout Run, a 40-acre property in the Catoctin Mountains near Thurmont.
At least for now.
The Frederick County Council on Tuesday voted 6-1 against placing Trout Run on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places, which would have allowed Narconon to move forward with its plans to open the center on the site. Only Councilman Billy Shreve voted in favor of the designation. Council members Tony Chmelik, Kirby Delauter, Jerry Donald, Jessica Fitzwater, M.C. Keegan-Ayer and Bud Otis all opposed it.
Even though the council’s vote makes it so Narconon cannot open the center on the property under the county’s zoning rules, Narconon is now exploring all options available for how it could open on the site, said Yvonne Rodgers, Narconon’s East U.S. executive director.
Rodgers said that being in Frederick County the past two months and attending the recent drug addiction forum showed her how serious the drug problem is in the area, and how much the area needs Narconon’s program.
“Narconon remains fully committed to helping individuals and families rid themselves of the growing scourge of drug addiction,” the company wrote in a statement released Tuesday after the vote.
This may be of concern to many county residents who question Narconon’s track record and have written to the council in opposition to the program.
More than a dozen people against the historic designation attended the meeting Tuesday. They burst into applause upon learning of the council’s vote.
“It’s almost too good to be true,” said Kimberly Mellon, who started the Facebook page “No Narconon at Trout Run,” which had 340 members as of Tuesday. Mellon said before the meeting that the members were opposed for different reasons, such as concerns about Narconon’s program, the county’s zoning decisions on the site, and how the proposed use would affect the site’s streams.
The property is zoned in a way that does not allow certain uses. But the county’s board of appeals decided in October 2013 that Narconon could operate on the site under a special exception for a group home as long as the property was listed on the historic register.
Many council members said before the vote they were not convinced that the site is so historically significant that it should be on the register. A county attorney had told them earlier in the meeting that they needed to be persuaded to vote in favor of the designation.
Councilman Jerry Donald said he doesn’t see how the Adirondack architecture of the property’s buildings is so rare for their time period that they should be considered historic. There are about a dozen rustic lodges, cabins and outhouses on the site that were built in the 1930s to 1970s.
Donald named both private and public properties with similar buildings in the county, such as Gambrill State Park and Camp Baker.
“If I can find three of these within 2 miles of my house, and I’m not looking for them, it’s not rare,” Donald said, referring only to the private buildings.
The Historic Preservation Commission recommended the property for the list after receiving an application from Social Betterment Properties International, the real estate arm of the Church of Scientology, which owns the property. The commission found that the property met three of the criteria that make a property worthy of the designation: It exemplifies the cultural, economic, social, political or historic heritage of the county and its communities; it embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period of method of construction or architecture; and it represents the work of a master craftsman, architect or builder.
Keegan-Ayer, the council vice president, went through those reasons Tuesday, saying that she hadn’t been convinced that any of them were true, although it was an interesting, quaint and tranquil property.
Narconon was disappointed with the decision, said Bruce Dean, an attorney representing the organization. It should have been an easy decision to support the historic designation, but a lot of extraneous information was included in the process, Dean said.
Before voting for the historic designation, Shreve similarly had said that other information clouded the council’s decision.
“It’s a sad day in Frederick County history if this fails,” he said.
This was the third time the council discussed the topic. The last time, on April 21, it postponed the vote to review the record.
At the time, a county attorney, Michael Chomel, told council members to consider only whether the historic commission were correct in recommending the property for the list. If the commission were correct, he said, the council should approve the property for the list.
On Tuesday, Chomel gave the council slightly different advice, pointing out how the county’s code on the topic allowed some leeway for members to divert from the commission’s recommendation.
The council’s decision was surprising, said Chuck Farmer, who worked on maintenance of Trout Run in the past and sent the council information about its history.
“I was glad to see that no matter what side of the aisle they were on, they were able to look at the details,” he said.