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After 2 Escorted by Police from Meeting, Wilmington Board Stands by Detox Vote

February 28, 2019
Wilmington residents at Wednesday night's Zoning Board of Appeals meeting brought signs saying the meeting was out of order. SUN/KORI TUITT Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

WILMINGTON -- Only minutes into Wednesday night’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting regarding the proposed detox center, Chairman Daniel Veerman called for temporary adjournment.

Suzanne Sullivan, a candidate for Board of Selectmen, told the board the meeting was illegal.

“It’s an illegal meeting. You are out of order. This meeting is out of order,” Sullivan said.

Veerman told Sullivan multiple times to stand down, to which she replied she doesn’t stand down. Veerman asked Town Manager Jeff Hull if an officer was present and called for adjournment until an officer was.

The back-and-forth happened just after the board unanimously approved the draft decision to deny the special permit for a proposed detox facility on Middlesex Avenue.

Around 7:25 p.m. the meeting resumed with an officer present.

After additional disruptions, both Sullivan and ultimately, Rob Fasulo, another candidate for Board of Selectmen, were escorted out by police.

While the special permit for a proposed detox center in town was denied last month, the applicant came before the Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday to request a hearing for reasonable accommodation. After much discussion, the board voted 3-2 to not hold a public hearing for the request for reasonable accommodation because members felt it was not within the board’s jurisdiction to take up such a request. Veerman and ZBA member Anthony Barletta voted against the motion. ZBA members Thomas Siracusa, Raymond Lepore and Jacquelyn Santini voted in favor.

“I don’t understand why this board now has to work out reasonable accommodation,” Siracusa. “So, the issue here in my mind, is that it doesn’t belong here.”

The request for a special permit to construct the 48-bed drug and alcohol detox facility failed in a 3-2 vote during the Jan. 16 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. Although three members voted in favor, at least four favorable votes were needed for the permit to be granted. The facility was proposed to be located at 362 Middlesex Ave., which has been a point of contention for many opposing residents. Aside from location, concerns with safety and home values have been a top priority for residents.

In December, Mark Bobrowski, the attorney representing the project, issued a letter to the ZBA stating the applicant will take legal action under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and or the Fair Housing Act if the project was denied.

Town Counsel Jonathan Silverstein recommended that the board take a safe route of action.

“My recommendation would be that the board hold a public hearing and determine whether or not to grant the accommodation under the standards articulated in the law,” Silverstein said.

Audience members did not take that suggestion well. They held up signs during the meeting which read “OUT OF ORDER” and rustled the paper signs, making noise.

Siracusa originally wanted to request that the ZBA direct town counsel to ask the Board of Selectmen and town manager to determine who in town would take up requests for reasonable accommodation. Veerman said he did not think it was a good idea.

“I think it’s a bad move and I’m not going to support it,” Veerman said, adding that it would be “ripping another artery open” in town.

The issue has been ongoing for more than a year. The December 2017 Special Town Meeting overwhelmingly voted to limit certain medical facilities, including detox centers, to industrial zones. Selectman Mike McCoy petitioned that article, which was backed by a group of residents opposing the project, called the Concerned Citizens of Wilmington. The proposed project at Middlesex Avenue was unaffected by the zoning change after the applicant submitted a subdivision plan which froze the zoning for eight years.

The meeting started out heated, resulting in the police escorts. But the meeting ended in applause.

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.