A proposed drug rehabilitation center near Thurmont that would feature a controversial program is still in the works, but not without many requested changes from county planning and permitting staff.
After a settlement was reached between Frederick County and a Scientology-linked company to operate a drug rehab center in 2018, county officials and the organization are still working through the permitting process to establish a smaller site than originally proposed.
Tolson DeSa, zoning administrator for the county, said in an email this week that the county received stormwater and construction plans on Sept. 5, 2019, from Social Betterment Properties International (SBPI) for an eight-bed drug rehab center for the Trout Run property, a 40-acre site near Thurmont.
“The major component of the work being proposed on site is a utility line for the approved septic system running the entire length of the property, through FEMA floodplain and streambuffer setbacks. This utility line has not yet been approved,” DeSa wrote.
Initially, SBPI, through the Narconon program, was trying to build a larger facility, but that would require the site be placed on the county’s Register of Historic Places.
The Narconon program, which uses aerobic exercise and long periods in a sauna instead of medically assisted treatment and psychiatric services, is controversial. Some have lauded it as a great drug addiction treatment option, but others have said it could be a deadly one.
A representative for the Association for Better Living and Education, a nonprofit established by the Church of Scientology and associated with the Narconon program, could not be reached for comment via phone or email this week.
After multiple hearings and considerable public opposition, the County Council voted against including the site on the register in a 6-1 vote in June 2015.
That, however, didn’t prevent SBPI from pursuing the project. Bruce Dean, an attorney for SBPI, said this week his client is working through the permitting process, which is lengthy and takes time.
DeSa said the prior proposal for a “large private group home” consisting of eight to 16 clients, would have required placement on the register. But now, SBPI is working to establish a “small private group home,” which is no more than eight beds.
“The Small Private Group Home is a by-right use in the [Resource Conservation] zoning district and may be approved without any Historic Register approvals or a site plan, although the physical construction proposed requires Stormwater Management Plans, Improvement Plans and building permits, among other approvals,” DeSa wrote.
It’s unclear when the final approvals for the property will be issued. DeSa said the county sent an eight-page comment letter to SBPI with requested changes to the application.
“Comments directed the Applicant to comply with the applicable storm water regulations, Federal Floodplain Regulations, streambody buffer setback requirements, County public rights of way rules, minimum plumbing code requirements, and the Maryland State Forest Resource Ordinance,” DeSa wrote.
County officials are still waiting to hear back with updated plans, he said. But once the plans are completed and permits are issued, neither the County Council nor County Executive Jan Gardner (D) will need to approve them.