‘Junkies’ Post Spurs Calls for ZBA Chair’s Recusal on Detox
WILMINGTON -- The proposed detox facility that has stirred up controversy in town was rejected by the Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this month. But residents opposing the project are still working to ensure it does not get developed.
While the request for a special permit failed at the Jan. 16 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, the applicant is set to meet with the board again on Feb. 27 to request a hearing for reasonable accommodation.
The Concerned Citizens of Wilmington, a group of residents who have been fighting against the proposal, submitted a lengthy letter to the Board of Selectmen dated Jan. 22. In the letter, the group “respectfully demand” that ZBA Chair Daniel Veerman voluntarily recuse himself from that Feb. 27 vote.
The letter cites Veerman’s statement in which he referred to people with drug addiction as “junkies,” and says the statement shows a “documented bias against those who would use the proposed rehabilitation facility.” Such comments were made on his personal Facebook page.
The letter continues to say that Veerman “cannot vote to deny the Special Permit without subjecting himself and the Town to a claim for damages and other relief brought by the developer under the Americans With Disabilities Act. As a result, he has a conflict of interest as a matter of law.”
Veerman was one of three ZBA members to vote in favor of the special permit. There needed to be at least four out of five supporting votes for the special permit to be granted.
Board of Selectmen Chair Kevin Caira said the board would not speak on the issues outlined in the letter. Caira said the board would decide at its Feb. 11 meeting whether the information they have before them warrants an executive session to discuss the topic. He urged other members of the board to not discuss the issue outside of an executive session so as to not violate Veerman’s rights. He said Veerman would be notified in advance of that meeting.
“Mr. Veerman has a legal right to speak on his behalf to the board,” Caira said.
Selectman Jonathan Eaton recused himself from discussion on the issue because of his previous work with Veerman.
Selectman Mike McCoy led efforts to get an article at the December 2017 Special Town Meeting limiting certain medical facilities, including detox centers, to industrial zones. This proposed project was not impacted by the passage of that article. He said not having a financial interest and not being an abutter means he has no conflict of interest in discussing the matter.
“I’m glad to see that we are going to have an executive session,” McCoy said. “I believe it’s warranted.”
The proposed project at 362 Middlesex Ave. sought to construct a 48-bed drug and alcohol detox facility. For over a year, a number of residents have been outspoken about their concerns with the location, safety, home values and more.
If Veerman does not recuse himself, the Concerned Citizens of Wilmington requested that town counsel “prepare and submit a written legal opinion regarding the steps to be taken to remove Mr. Veerman from participating in any actions regarding this project.”
Caira set ground rules before residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“You should exercise civility and be respectful with your remarks,” Caira said. “Your comments will be noted, but no response will be provided by members of the board to any remarks about this matter.”
School Committee member MJ Byrnes, who is an abutter to the proposed project, urged the board to consider Veerman’s social media posts should they have an executive session. She offered to send the posts to the board.
Residents Suzanne Sullivan and Rob Fasulo said they believed Caira also had a conflict of interest. His brother and former town manager, Michael Caira, had been involved with the detox proposal back in 2017 and led a presentation on the project at a past Board of Selectmen’s meeting. He subsequently removed himself from the project.
“I have been in contact with town counsel, there is no conflict of interest, but I certainly will contact town counsel again tomorrow to make sure there is none -- and if there is a conflict of interest, I would recuse myself without a doubt,” Caira said.
Sullivan also expressed her doubts about town counsel.
“I think that the Board of Appeals deserves to have a special counsel to work on their behalf because the current counsel, I don’t think is good enough,” Sullivan said. She said she disagreed with town counsel on his view that the applicant could even go for a hearing for reasonable accommodation.
With Eaton recused from the issue, one resident asked the board what if the vote for executive session next month ends up at 2-2. In that case, the board would not go into executive session.