More than 100 residents who live near a proposed live-in rehabilitation facility for teens with substance abuse disorders have signed an open letter to the Town of Westport, imploring planning …
More than 100 residents who live near a proposed live-in rehabilitation facility for teens with substance abuse disorders have signed an open letter to the Town of Westport, imploring planning officials to study the law and follow the facts as they review not only the controversial plan for 435 Old Harbor Road, but also a recent appeal that has bearing on the matter.
“Our purpose is not to prejudge the merits of such a facility and its suitability for this location, but rather to ensure that the Town of Westport is able to make the judgments the law requires on the basis of the actual facts,” they wrote in the letter, which has been submitted to the zoning board, planning board and other town officials.
Proposed by Hyannis substance abuse treatment center developer Ken Weber, the plan is to build a facility that would house up to a dozen teens at a time, plus staff, in an existing home and outbuildings on a 10-acre stretch of residential/agricultural-zoned land on the Little Compton town line.
Weber and his attorney contend that their proposal is primarily educational in nature, which is allowed by right in the residential/agriculture zone in which it lies, as long as it receives site plan approval by the planning board.
But residents have said at several meetings, and reiterate in the open letter, that Weber’s assertion is “disingenuous” at best.
Citing correspondence from Weber that the facility will be licensed as a treatment center by the state, and not as an educational facility, they contend that it is a for-profit venture and as such, is not allowed by right and must be reviewed by the zoning board of appeals, not just the planning board.
“The effort must begin by calling a spade a spade,” they wrote.
“Given the magnitude of the change this would cause, even at its current proposed size, we are bothered that the Applicant should assert that his proposed use is a matter of right. If credited without detailed factual examination, this claim would virtually eliminate further community discussion, without the developer being required to make a compelling case for why it would be appropriate to set a major commercial enterprise in a residential neighborhood. This feels wrong. Hence, we ask that this board move slowly and deliberately to ensure a full and fair assessment of what is happening here.”
It is unclear what bearing the letter will have on town discussions, which were expected to continue with a meeting of the zoning board of review on Wednesday evening, Dec. 6.
At the meeting, board members were expected to hear an administrative appeal first presented in early November by nearby resident Kevin Brayton McGoff. Board members in November continued McGoff’s appeal to this week, stating at the time that he did not have standing to file as he is not a direct abutter of the proposed facility. But since then, an abutter, Ryan Kim, has signed on to the appeal.
Specifically, McGoff and Kim take issue with a June 12, 2023 letter sent to Weber by Westport zoning enforcement officer Ralph Souza, who had been asked by Weber to write a “letter of determination” stating that the proposed use is educational in nature. In his three-sentence response sent on Monday, June 12, Souza wrote that “the use of the property at 435 Old Harbor Road for educational service would be allowed” as long as the planning board issues site plan approval.”
Weber and his attorney, Richard Burke, have described Souza’s letter as an official town determination that the facility is allowed by right in the zone, and need only earn site plan approval from the planning board. However, at the November zoning board hearing, several board members and the town’s attorney stated that the letter is not legally binding and was simply a note advising Weber that educational use indeed be allowed by right.
“This being so, it would appear that (the planning board) should pause the Site Plan Approval process and forward the matter to the ZBA,” residents wrote in the letter. “Alternatively, if it is to proceed, the Board must assess the Applicant’s zoning argument on its actual facts, not the Applicant’s unsupported assertions.”
As the zoning issue unfolds, members of the planning board last week discussed the current status of the proposal during their second meeting on Weber’s request for site plan review. A good portion of the meeting was spent discussing drainage, sewerage, water service and parking. But members also talked about the administrative appeal currently before the zoning board.
Last month, select board members wrote a letter expressing concerns over the project to the planning board. Given those and other comments about the nature of Souza’s letter made by other departments, several planning board members said last week that it is time to slow down and take a look at the facts:
“I’m interested in what you or your client want to do to resolve the issues of use that the zoning board of appeals and the building department are concerned about,” planning board member John Bullard asked Burke, who was there without Weber.
“Because if those can’t get resolved, then the little things don’t matter.”