Opposition kills drug rehab for Southington campus development

reporter photo

SOUTHINGTON — Drug and alcohol treatment won’t be a part of the Lincoln College campus redevelopment following strong opposition from neighbors and questions from town planners.

Dennis Terwilliger, president of the company that owns the Mount Vernon Road property, said he hadn’t anticipated objections. Drug and alcohol treatment were among the land uses allowed in the residential zone with a special permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“We’re limited to whatever the special zone options are,” Terwilliger said Wednesday. “There aren’t very many, and drug and alcohol treatment was one of them.”

He and the town have been trying to market the former college campus for more than a year without success. A buyer interested earlier this year has withdrawn from the deal.

Terwilliger has presented plans to the town that include a host of uses in the different campus buildings including veterinary care, adult day care, medical offices and drug detoxification and treatment. The prospect of drug rehab patients in the residential area prompted opposition from neighbors during a meeting held via video conference on Tuesday.

He said Southington doesn’t have drug or alcohol treatment facilities so he saw a need. Terwiliger ran such a facility with partners in Florida where he has a home.

“In retrospect, had we foreseen the pushback, we just wouldn’t have included that choice,” he said.

The space will be allocated to other, less controversial uses.

Potential special permit uses

Terwilliger doesn’t have any tenants for the property yet and said it’s difficult to interest businesses in moving there before getting town permission for them to operate.

Town officials said they have a hard time approving speculative uses for land without details of what will take place. They’ve acknowledged the conundrum with Planning and Zoning Commission chairman Rob Hammersley calling it a chicken or the egg situation.

“For us to make an approval on an application based on a lot of assumptions and uncertainties, that’s not something that makes me feel comfortable,” he said Wednesday.

Objections from neighbors

More than a dozen residents of the Mount Vernon Road area spoke during Tuesday’s video conference meeting. All were in opposition to Terwilliger’s plan, citing concerns about traffic and the proposed drug treatment facility.

Terwilliger also took part in the meeting.

Steven Fournier, like many of the neighbors, said he didn’t move to a predominantly residential area to see it developed and built up.

“Residential areas are desired because they’re away from commercial areas,” Fornier said Tuesday.

Hammersley said the commission didn’t want to continue postponing business items including the Lincoln College application. He was pleased with how the video conference meeting went but will hold another public hearing in June to allow in-person public comment.

“I’m not sure if that format provides for everybody to feel like they had the chance to share their piece,” Hammersley said of video conference.

He was pleased with how the public, many of whom were attending a commission meeting for the first time, handled the new format.

Delaying a decision on the college campus plan also allows property owners to “target” their plans more, Hammersley said, so that less of their proposal is speculative.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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