Gosnold on Cape Cod has been denied a special permit to open a residential substance abuse recovery facility in a North Sagamore neighborhood.
The decision by the Bourne Zoning Board of Appeals to deny the special permit drew a burst of applause from the standing-room-only audience of residents who crowded the lower conference room of Bourne Town Hall Wednesday night, June 4.
The board’s decision, however, turned on a legal procedural issue that still leaves open the possibility of Gosnold’s use of the home.
Gosnold, a treatment center for people dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues, was requesting a special permit for changing the use of the property at 60 Old Plymouth Road in North Sagamore. The company’s application said it was looking to operate a “residential social services facility.”
It was the third time that the case had been brought before the zoning board. Most recently it was continued from May 7 so the board could seek an opinion from town counsel Robert S. Troy on whether the residence qualified as a residential social services facility under Bourne town bylaw.
In rendering his opinion, Mr. Troy said that town bylaw defines a residential social services facility as “a dwelling where care and supervision which is licensed, contracted for, or supervised by a federal or state agency, is provided to individuals who are handicapped, aged, disabled, or undergoing rehabilitation.”
Zoning board chairman Lee M. Berger said that the key phrase in the decision was, “licensed, contracted for, or supervised by a federal or state agency.” As a private company, Gosnold is not under the jurisdiction of federal or state authority.
Mr. Troy’s written opinion also noted a possible “education exemption” under the Dover Amendment of Massachusetts General Law. The Dover Amendment exempts agriculture, religious and educational corporations from some zoning restrictions.
Mr. Berger quoted from two leading appellate cases that defined education as “to assist its residents in the process of developing and training their powers and capabilities as human beings and preparing persons for activity and usefulness in life” and “preparing its residents to live by themselves outside of an institutional setting.”
Mr. Berger said that he requested further opinion from Mr. Troy as to a possible education exemption for Gosnold. Mr. Troy responded that the zoning board does not have the authority to determine whether Gosnold qualifies for such an exemption. That decision is in the hands of Bourne building inspector Roger M. Laporte, he said.
“According to Bob Troy, you have to ask him [Roger] specifically to make a decision. Is this a group home and are we exempt? If he says yes, you’re fine. If he says no, then you come back to us to appeal,” Mr. Berger said.
So far, the building inspector has not been requested to make a determination as to whether this use is exempt from the provisions of the zoning bylaw.
Mr. Troy wrote that the zoning board can weigh in on the exemption issue only after Gosnold has appealed Mr. Laporte’s decision. Until then, eligibility for exemption from the town’s zoning bylaws “is not lawfully before the town.”
J. Ford O’Connor, the attorney representing Gosnold, told the board that Mr. Laporte directed him to seek a special permit from the zoning board as a residential social services facility. The company could operate as a boarding house and, by homeowner right, house six people, but if the zoning board granted the special permit, it would give the town control. They could put in place whatever restrictions deemed necessary to protect public safety, he said.
Mr. Berger said that, under the statutes he cited, he believes the company does provide an educational service; however, there is the problem of the company not being responsible to a federal or state agency.
“So by definition, by your admission, I don’t see how we can call you a residential social services facility,” he said.
Mr. Berger said that he would not be calling for a vote on whether the Gosnold facility could be categorized as a sober house or a group home. He said that the only issue to be decided by the zoning board was whether the home qualified as a residential social services facility because that is what was on the company’s application.
Board member Harold A. Kalick drew cheers from the audience when he suggested that Gosnold should consider the impact to the neighborhood and move into a different area of town. Mr. Kalick said it was clear that the majority of people in the room opposed Gosnold’s plan, so the company should “as a good citizen” consider moving into a different location.
“It’s just that this one seems to not be an area which is conducive to putting this house in,” he said.
After a little more than an hour of deliberation and testimony, the zoning board voted unanimously not to approve the special permit for a change of use.
Raymond V. Tamasi, president and chief executive officer for Gosnold, did not attend Wednesday night's meeting. Yesterday morning, Mr. Tamasi said that he had not met with Mr. O’Connor yet to decide what the company's next step will be.