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Williamstown Zoning Board Again Continues Hearing on Drug Rehab Facility
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:23AM / Monday, July 25, 2022
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday voted to again continue a public hearing on the application to operate a chemical dependency rehabilitation facility in the former Sweet Brook Nursing Home on Cold Spring Road.
The board delayed a decision to a third meeting hoping that the applicant, Williamstown Recovery Realty LLC, and abutter Sweetwood retirement community, could reach an understanding about the fencing and landscaping plans for the new drug treatment center.
Sweetwood attorney Karla Chaffee told the board that her client has had productive conversations with Williamstown Recovery, but the two sides still have outstanding issues.
Some of those concerns are private matters, like how the two will share the cost of a well that serves both properties. But one is a matter that falls within the purview of the ZBA.
"Our primary concern now is buffering between the properties," Chaffee said.
"I do think it is within the board’s jurisdiction, especially since it’s a special permit. Special permit criteria include visual consequences of a change of use."
Williamstown Recovery partner Sean Stewart, who represented the ownership group at Thursday’s hearing, indicated that the group is working with a landscaper on plans to address the exterior changes that will be needed at the property.
As Williamstown Recovery indicated in its initial filings with the town, Stewart said most of the work will be inside the building at the former nursing home. And he said that work already is underway.
Although ZBA Chair Andrew Hoar said he wanted to avoid requesting a costly development plan when none was required under the special permit sought, the board members agreed that some visual representation will help it understand the changes planned. The ZBA directed Williamstown Recovery to return for the Aug. 18 hearing with sketches of its exterior plan -- after the applicant has discussed them and reached an understanding with Sweetwood.
"This board is a huge fan of sharing information between parties," Hoar said. "We find it lessens tension dramatically. Perhaps a sharing of information would alleviate or certainly lower the tension with those specific concerns."
After the initial board hearing last month, the ZBA sought more information from Williamstown Recovery about the ownership group itself, which prompted Stewart to attend Thursday’s continuation.
He told the board that he personally has been working in the "health care investing and consulting space" for 20 years and that the ownership group collectively has "decades of experience not just in health care but long-term care management and related sectors."
"I think there might have been a question on the legal organization structure," Stewart said. "The structure we’re using is extremely common in health care residential facilities.
"We’ve already put capital and expertise into the properties. We’re looking forward to moving this ahead."
Stone Hill road resident Paul Haklisch, who raised issues about Williamstown Recovery’s credentials at the June hearing, was back before the ZBA on Thursday to ridicule the applicant and ask why the town would grant a special permit to someone who, in Haklisch’s opinion, was not qualified to run a chemical dependency rehab center.
Later in the hearing, one of Williamstown Recovery’s partners clarified that the facility would be subject to stringent state licensing requirements.
"What I do love about our industry is we do have this layers and layers of licensing and accreditation," said Jennifer Holbrook, the director of quality and compliance for Complete Compliance Consultants. "That's something people don't realize. People think being licensed means someone calls you once a year and asks how you're doing.
"That's absolutely not true. Those bodies are involved from the onset of this project and throughout the entirety of the life of the project. You have quarterly reports, biannual reports, annual reporting. You have six-month, one-year and every two years audits that happen on the property looking at all the records."
Holbrook said Complete Compliance will work with Williamstown Recovery on finding and vetting medical staff to operate the planned facility.
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