July 18th, 2013
By Stephanie Choate
Underhill-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation center Maple Leaf Farm announced on Monday that it is withdrawing from plans to open a facility at the former Pine Ridge School location in Williston.
“It’s unfortunate,” Executive Director Bill Young told the Observer on Monday. “We thought it was a good site for us… it would have been a good fit.”
Young said that “a variety of delays, as well as increased costs” led the Maple Leaf Farm Board of Directors to believe the project was no longer viable.
Young said Maple Leaf Farm has already invested $240,000 in the project. Going into the project, officials knew that they could spend a substantial amount of money without having the project work out, he added, but projected delays and costs got to a tipping point.
“To spend that kind of money when you really have some questions as to whether the project is going to go forward is foolish,” he said.
Williston Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau said he had no idea Maple Leaf Farm was considering withdrawing until an email showed up in his inbox Monday morning.
“From my own point of view, I saw Maple Leaf Farm as being a good reuse of this property… it would enable that property to be used in a manner that was very similar to the way it was used previously when it was Pine Ridge School.”
Young said he believes the project was fairly treated by the town, and said there wasn’t any one factor that caused Maple Leaf Farm to withdraw.
“Certainly the Williston zoning process has gone on longer than anticipated, but we had other delays as well,” Young said.
He added unexpected capital costs at Maple Leaf Farm’s Underhill location—approximately $200,000 for work on its septic and sprinkler systems—added to its financial crunch.
Maple Leaf Farm officials submitted a specific plan application to the Williston Planning and Zoning Department more than a year ago. The location is in the agricultural and rural zoning district, and would have required a zoning change. Maple Leaf Farm officials contended that the change should be allowed because the project met the town’s substantial public benefit requirement by setting aside open space.
The Planning Commission was set to host a public meeting on July 30 before deciding whether to ask the Selectboard to consider changing the zoning. If the changes were approved by the Selectboard after it hosted a public meeting, the project would have had to get approval from the Development Review Board.
The Planning Commission held two public meetings in 2012. Some neighbors vehemently opposed the location, citing safety concerns. Others have spoken out in favor of a centrally located option for people seeking help.
David Lynch, President of the Board of Directors of Maple Leaf Farm, wrote in a press release that he appreciated the work of the project’s supporters.
“We have a vision of a State where anyone struggling with this deadly disease of addiction can get help when they ask for it in a timely and effective way. Pine Ridge was a means to further that vision. Treatment is very effective but quick access to the service is critical to success,” Lynch wrote.
Maple Leaf Farm’s Underhill treatment center serves 800 men and women each year, from all over Vermont and surrounding states.
Young said Maple Leaf Farm will begin looking into other ways to meet the increasing need for treatment, both at its Underhill location and offsite.
“Of course the level of need hasn’t gone away,” Young said. “We’ll be developing an alternate plan.”
While Maple Leaf Farm looks elsewhere, the Pine Ridge School will sit empty.
“The bank will no doubt resume looking for potential buyers of the property,” Belliveau said. “We’ll have to wait and see what kind of ideas get put forward.”