GUILFORD — Hundreds of residents met in an effort to block the opening of a methadone clinic on the Boston Post Road, arguing that the town should have provided opportunities for a public conversation and raising concerns about safety and local real estate values.
Guilford residents crowded the community center on Friday with the promise of hearing from an attorney who they hoped could offer advice on how to challenge the clinic’s zoning approval. Attorney John Bolton, a member of the Planning and Zoning Committee in Westport, said he sympathized with the residents but did not offer concrete legal advice about how to approach the issue, instead encouraging residents to email their elected officials.
But attendees took time during the meeting to express their worries and frustrations with the proposed clinic and explored ways to challenge its opening.
Resident leading the meeting suggested several ideas to prompt a public hearing, citing a section of the Town Charter that grants the Board of Selectmen authority to call a Special Town Meeting if a petition with the signatures of 50 people is submitted.
Resident and vocal opponent of the methadone clinic Dave Holman said he already turned in a petition with 68 signatures to the Board of Selectmen, but did not expect them to call a meeting. The petition asks that all modifications to the property be paused until public hearings are held and impact studies are completed. Holman also called for a minimum distance to be established between the clinic and residential areas or schools.
In a call on Monday, First Selectman Matt Hoey told CT Examiner that the petition will be on the Board of Selectmen’s Feb. 20 meeting agenda.
Holman said he also hoped to collect 200 signatures for another petition to change the zoning rules. Under state statute, 200 signatures would require what he called an “adjourned referendum,” which can force a vote on the petition questions.
According to emails obtained by CT Examiner, Hoey began discussions with the APT Foundation, a nonprofit that offers medical care, counseling and treatment for people struggling with substance use, about the possibility of opening a clinic in Guilford last March. The foundation purchased three parcels on Boston Post Road that summer for $1.9 million. In January, the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved the proposal.
Under the town’s zoning regulations, the clinic was approved as of right in the district along the Post Road, and there was not requirement to hold a public hearing. Hoey told CT Examiner in January that only the Planning and Zoning Commission has the power to call for a public hearing on the proposal.
In an email to Town Planner Anne Hartjen in December, Holman compared the plan to the proposed opening of an APT clinic in Newhallville, a New Haven neighborhood bordering Hamden. Residents there expressed fears of increased crime and lower property values in an area with high levels of Black homeownership. They also said they had not been informed of APT’s purchase of the building. APT Foundation CEO Lynn Madden did not respond to a request for comment.
“Approval of something as controversial and potentially devastating as building a methadone clinic which will be less than a two-minute walk from several residential neighborhoods, not to mention next to restaurants, food stores, a motel, etc. which will be adversely impacted also, without holding public hearings first is unconscionable,” Holman wrote to Hoey.
Holman, a founder of the Greater Education Council of Connecticut, earlier played a significant role opposing the teaching of critical race theory in local schools.
Hoey, who has spoken in favor of the proposed clinic and the help it could offer Guilford residents, said he had a “significant amount of correspondence” with Holman about the concerns he had raised, but that his explanations hadn’t been received.
“Somehow I failed to have Mr. Holman understand several items related to this application, or he declined to listen to what I was explaining to him,” Hoey said.
One of those items, he said, was the fact that the as-of-right status of the methadone clinic had already existed in the zoning code before the code had been modified in April.
In an email to CT Examiner, Holman responded by saying that Hoey should have told the APT Foundation that there needed to be public hearings, and he referred to the purchase and approval of the clinic as a “tale of deceit and disrespect for the citizens of Guilford.”
Residents speak out
Speakers at the Friday meeting shared concerns of increased crime rates in Guilford, citing reports obtained through a Freedom of Information to the West Haven Police Department that included incidents of breach of peace, assault, a stolen vehicle and drunkenness at a West Haven methadone clinic also run by the APT Foundation.
A review of the FOI request by CT Examiner found that the pages amounted to about 30 reports over the course of six years. The majority of the reports were either a need for medical assistance or mental health issues, such as suicidal ideations, and the patients were taken to the hospital. A few of the complaints involved raised voices of clients in arguments with other clients or with clinic staff.
Although meeting organizers listed shoplifting as one of the offenses, the only report involving shoplifting was a call from a family member whose brother was last seen at the West Haven methadone clinic. It was later found to be connected to the theft of a Red Bull energy drink from a truck stop in Milford.
Resident Jeri Perkins said she was worried the clinic would put too much pressure on the town’s police department.
“I think that the police commissioner needs to be approached and we need to discuss who’s going to pay for extra security,” Perkins said.
Police Chief Christopher Massey told CT Examiner he wasn’t concerned yet about staffing levels in relation to the methadone clinic, but he believed the department might need more staff as a result of multiple town changes that could increase traffic.
“We’re just assessing things right now and trying to be responsive to the community, and also just make sure that any changes we make with how we do patrols, staffing, things like that — they’re just based on data, rather than basing decisions on speculation and stories and things like that,” Massey said.
Hoey said he wasn’t concerned about police staffing levels.
“We have no reason to believe that there is going to be an exorbitant amount of additional work required by the police department,” he said.
Residents also expressed concern about the facility being located within walking distance of residential areas and a nearby day care center. Bright and Early Children’s Learning Centers told WTNH in January that it had not informed about the clinic by the town.
“We did not have an opportunity to perform due diligence and be educated on the impact of this clinic. If we had been informed, we would have preferred to have our voice be heard as part of this decision,” the center noted in a statement.
Cassandra Terrusa, director of Bright and Early in Guilford, did not respond to a request for comment.
Hoey said the town was not obligated to inform residents because the zoning application was an as-of-right use, meaning it did not need to be approved by the community.
“None of us felt that there was a significant concern for the safety and well-being of anyone in that area, let alone the day care facility,” he said.
And not everyone at the meeting was opposed to the clinic.
John Valette, who attended the meeting with his father, who lives in Guilford, said having a clinic in the area would be positive. Visiting the West Haven or New Haven clinics could put people in danger, he said. Valette also criticized the meeting’s organizers, saying they seemed to “have an agenda” and be solely focused on their property values.
“Property value over kids, property value over the next generation, property value over people dying — I mean, I don’t get it,” Valette said. “They’re worried about how much their house is going to sell for or be worth over maybe their neighbor’s kid dying.”
Ashley Esposito, Valette’s sister, agreed. She told CT Examiner that the clinics in New Haven were often overcrowded.
“If that’s where they were using, seeing dealers and whatnot, it’s just risky and dangerous for them,” she said.
But Tim Donln, a Guilford resident who attended the Friday meeting, told CT Examiner that the town should have been more transparent about the proposed clinic.
“If somebody wanted to put a liquor store over there, or a gun shop, or something … that’s not appropriate, they’d go crazy. And rightfully so,” Donln said. “Just have a public hearing. Let people speak.”