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January 10, 2018

Warrenton council denies drug treatment center

Photos/Cassandra Brown
Betty Ramsburg, whose son Travis died of a heroin overdose in 2015, implores the Warrenton Town Council to approve the residential treatment center during Tuesday night’s public hearing.
Downtown commercial real estate owner Faye Richardson opposes the permit but wants the community to work to find a more suitable location for the center.
With people also watching a video feed in the nearby Warren Green Building, Warrenton officials ensured the audience wouldn’t overwhelm Town Hall as it did for the planning commission hearing in November.
Supporting the permit, Rev. Justin Macintosh of Leeds Episcopal Church near Hume suggests that love must trump zoning.
I think the town council did a great job with a tough decision. They separated emotion and decided the application on its merits.
— Jim Lawrence, businessman
Public Hearing
• Topic: Special permit application for 14-bed substance abuse recovery center at 30 John Marshall St., Warrenton

• When: 7:17 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 9.

• Agency: Warrenton Town Council.

• Action: Council unanimously denied the application.

• Length: Almost 90 minutes.

• Speakers: 30, with 20 supporting, and nine opposing the application; one speaker appeared to express no opinion.

• Where: Town Hall, 18 Court St.

• Applicant: McShin Foundation, Richmond.

• Landowner: Mill Pond Investments LLC (Matt Iten, owner). 

• Zoning: Central Business District.

• Center manager: Chris Connell

• Details: By-right town zoning allows counseling at McShin’s 30 John Marshall St. building; the foundation and other groups have been providing services there since early September; proposed 28-day, overnight recovery program requires special permit use approval by town council; 14-bed substance abuse recovery center, would serve eight males and six females; two “house managers” — one to supervise women, the other men.

Timeline
• Sept. 21, 2017: McShin Foundation submitted to town staff special permit application to establish 14-bed addiction recovery center at 30 John Marshall St. in downtown Warrenton.

• Oct. 6: Town staff deems application complete.

• Nov. 21: After more than two-hour public hearing, planning commission voted, 4-0, to recommend approval of proposal; commission serves an advisory panel to town council, which has final authority.

• Jan. 4, 2018: Council conducts 45-minute work session on proposal.

• Jan. 9: After almost 90-minute public hearing, council voted, 7-0, to deny special permit.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
Citing zoning and the comprehensive plan, Warrenton’s town council Tuesday night unanimously rejected a Richmond-based foundation’s proposal to operate a 14-bed addiction recovery center in downtown.

By a 7-0 vote, the council denied The McShin Foundation’s special permit application to establish a 28-day, overnight recovery program at 30 John Marshall St.

Among other things, the proposal fails to comply with the town’s goals and objectives to attract customers, tourists, shops and offices to the Central Business District, explained Councilman Kevin Carter (Ward 5), reading from a two-page motion to deny the application.

The proposal also would fail to “increase” Warrenton’s “economic tax base” and allow first-floor residential use of space designated for office and retail, according to the motion.

“The issue before the town council is a issue of zoning,” Councilman Bob Kravetz (Ward 4) said.

Calling the McShin program “wonderful” and necessary,” Mr. Kravetz hopes the town and county government, working with local organizations, will find a more suitable alternative.

“It really breaks my heart not to vote for this,” Councilman Jerry Wood (Ward 1) said.

But because of “zoning” issues, “my hands are tied, simply tied,” Mr. Wood said.

Councilwoman Sunny Reynolds (At-Large) remains convinced that acceptable, alternative sites or solutions exist.

“I know they’re out there . . . . We are all team players. And I honestly believe we can find a location.”

But Mayor Powell Duggan disagreed with the council’s decision.
 
The special permit process could have allowed approval of the application, said Mayor Duggan, who votes only to break a council tie.
 
“It is a permissible use under a special permit,” he said.
 
Moments before the vote, the mayor said he regretted the council’s decision to deny the application.
 
“I wish we could do better. You’ve got to do something . . . . This is an opportunity. This is an opportunity in hand.
 
“If I was voting, I would vote in favor of this,” Mayor Duggan said.

“It’s very disappointing,” McShin President Foundation John Shinholser said of the council’s decision. “This town has an opportunity to rise to the occasion (to address) an opioid emergency. And they kicked the can.”

Jim Lawrence owns two office condominiums that house his direct marketing firm in a building adjacent to the proposed recovery center structure, where McShin and other groups have been providing addiction counseling services since September.

That property’s commercial zoning allows counseling by-right.

Like others, Mr. Lawrence believes Fauquier needs a residential recovery center but argued that such use would be incompatible with existing businesses, the town zoning ordinance and the comprehensive plan’s vision for the area.

“I think the town council did a great job with a tough decision,” Mr. Lawrence said. “They separated emotion and decided the application on its merits.”

The proposed overnight program called for serving a maximum 14 women and men housed on separate floors of the three-story brick building. Two resident house managers would supervise them.

Thirty people spoke during the nearly 90-minute public hearing; 20 people spoke in favor of the application, nine against and one appeared to express no opinion on the matter.

Most opponents told the council they supported providing local addiction recovery services.

“I’m in favor of helping people,” said Faye Richardson, who owns commercial buildings near the McShin office.

But the proposed site “is not appropriate to the Warrenton comprehensive plan,” Mrs. Richardson said. “Let’s work together to find the right location.”

Others who objected to the proposed site spoke of:

• Safety concern because of the McShin center’s proximity to schools and neighborhoods.

• McShin’s inability to deal with a range of complex medical issues associated with addictions.

• Fauquier and Warrenton’s lack of adequate public safety services to respond to emergency calls generated by such a recovery center.

Another speaker warned the council that the proposed recovery center would devalue real estate and discourage future businesses from occupying nearby commercial space.

Proponents called the McShin center well-suited for the recovery program because it would provide participants, who often lack driver’s licenses or cars, easy foot access to a range of services concentrated in downtown.

Warrenton businessman Dave Gerrish gave little credence to the typical “list” of reasons given to deny the application and “not do something.”

“People are dying,” said Mr. Gerrish, who supported the application. “They are trying desperately to recover.”

If recovering addicts participating in the proposed program needed to stretch their legs and a place to go during the day, they would be welcomed at his Main Street office, he said.

“We’ll provide them with a cup of coffee.”

Fauquier’s board of supervisors in December agreed to buy the building and an adjacent parking lot from Mill Pond Investments LLC owner Matt Iten for $650,000. The county soon expects to close the deal.

In a Dec. 28 letter to the town, County Administrator Paul McCulla stated that the board of supervisors “does not see” the John Marshall Street building “as the best long-term location for a residential treatment facility.”

But it “does agree that a residential treatment facility operating now would be beneficial to the community” and it “will support the efforts of the Rappahannock Community Services Board, Fauquier Hospital, the sheriff and the PATH Foundation to find a location to construct a permanent residential treatment facility,” Mr. McCulla wrote.

Had the council granted the special permit, the county would be prepared to “enter into a lease with McShin on mutually agreeable terms permitting McShin to operate the residential treatment facility” in John Marshall Street building, the two-page letter reads.

The town planning commission in November voted, 4-0, to recommend approval of The McShin Foundation’s special use permit to operate a 28-day recovery center on John Marshall Street.

The commission serves as an advisory panel to the council, which has the final say.

In April, Fauquier County’s jail — with the help of McShin — started a “peer-to-peer” counseling program.  

Founded in 2004, McShin, operates an apartment building and group homes with 178 beds for recovering addicts in and around Richmond. 

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