The Frederick County Council voted Tuesday to postpone a decision on a historic designation for the Scientology-affiliated drug treatment center planned for Thurmont.
Leaders of the Narconon program, which uses rehabilitation methods developed by the Church of Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, want to open a “residential drug rehabilitation center” at a 40-acre camp named Trout Run, off Catoctin Hollow Road.
Social Betterment Properties is the current owner of Trout Run and the real estate arm of the church. The property owner and Narconon requested that Trout Run be added to the county’s historic registry — a decision the County Council voted to postpone until April 21 — to allow more time for consideration.
The Board of Zoning Appeals previously voted to allow the property owner to make changes to the site, which would not otherwise be permitted under current zoning restrictions, if the owner acquired a historic preservation designation from the County Council.
“You are the last stop for these folks in terms of certifications and designations,” county planner Denis Superczynski told the council Tuesday.
Six members of the public weighed in on the planned drug rehabilitation center during the public hearing portion of the council meeting.
Washington County resident Katherine McBride, a former Scientologist, believed the property owner and Narconon were going “through the back end” to get the appropriate licensing for the rehabilitation center.
“They’re not very honest,” Frederick resident Lesli Summers-Stay said.
Most of the speakers expressed concern about what they’d heard about the religion, which Linowes and Blocher attorney Bruce Dean addressed. Dean has been representing the property owner through their presentations and applications to the county.
“There’s been some discussion about Scientology and how it’s bad,” Dean said. Though others may judge Scientologists’ beliefs or practices, he said, “I don’t know. I’m a land-use attorney.”
Narconon Eastern U.S. Executive Director Yvonne Rodgers, who is a Scientologist, also attended the meeting. She said they would go through the proper channels to get the center up and running.
“We will be fully licensed by the state of Maryland; there’s no way for us to operate otherwise,” she said.
Former County Commissioner Kai Hagen heard the organization was trying to get the historic designation in order to receive tax credits, but he didn’t believe that was plausible.
“They’ve got more money than God, so to speak,” Hagen said.
Hagen told the council they should do their homework on Scientology and Narconon.
“You owe it to the growing number of constituents who didn’t know about this a few months ago,” he said.
Councilman Jerry Donald, who teaches history at Middletown High School, said he didn’t think the Trout Run site should receive the designation because it isn’t historic.
“I’m failing to see that, other than somebody fished there,” he said.
According to county staff, an aide to President Herbert Hoover bought the property in 1929. The aide stocked the stream with trout and built a cabin in preparation for the commander in chief’s visits.
The design of Trout Run was “designed to do one thing ... make you feel one with nature, for a weekend, for a week, whatever it may be,” Superczynski said.
Hoover stayed at Trout Run a handful of times, and the aide eventually sold the property. But other members of the Washington elite, including President Dwight D. Eisenhower, continued to visit the retreat decades after.
Hagen has known about the property nearly his whole life and said he was happy to hear the state was going to preserve it years ago. Though the plan fell through, he said this center was not the right way to do it.
Ann Lundahl, who lives south of Thurmont, hasn’t heard much about Narconon but is wary of its presence in the county.
“I’m concerned about the history of the organization that’s behind it,” she said.
Rodgers said they chose the Thurmont location so that it would be central for Maryland and nearby states. This would be Narconon’s first outpost in Maryland.
“The facility where we want to open the Narconon center is away from the tumult of any big city — yet accessible to the whole region,” she said in an email. “It’s quiet, private, and peaceful.”
Rodgers said the Narconon center is not intended to be a recruiting tool for the Church of Scientology and that Narconon is “a non-religious program.”
County Council member Kirby Delauter said he didn’t want the council’s discussion to get hung up on the practices or beliefs of the organization making the historic designation request.
“I don’t care what kind of drapes you have, what kind of flooring you have,” he said.
Delauter and Donald were in the minority. Council members Tony Chmelik, M.C. Keegan-Ayer, Jessica Fitzwater and council President Bud Otis voted to table the issue. Councilman Billy Shreve was absent.
Fitzwater asked members of the public to send their comments to the council for their consideration.