This post has been sitting in my queue since AnnaZed (who is the real Mistress of This Blog, in case you haven’t noticed) sent it to me a few weeks ago. I was up to my ass in alligators that day, apparently.
The story is that there’s a little island off Stonington, CT, called Enders Island. It is home to a Catholic retreat center operated by the Society of St. Edmund.
St. Edmunds hosts a number of family-oriented retreats and events, including their annual Holy Smoke cigar dinner, for which they must apply for a liquor license. St. Edmunds also offers a Recovery Retreat — which seems to be an intense AA immersion boot camp.
Enders Island is connected via causeway to another small island, called Mason’s Island — home to a population of wealthy homeowners as well as the Mason’s Island Yacht Club. Residents of Mason’s Island are up in arms because St. Edmunds has recently applied to the city for permission to open a rehab sort of thing on Enders Island that would cater exclusively to college-age men:
The new program is a “long-term, intermediate rehabilitation center,” said Father Thomas Hoar, president of the retreat, which is located on Enders Island. The island connects to the Mason’s Island section of Mystic by a small bridge.
The plan is for a 14-bed center for college-age men who have already been through detoxification and need further support, Hoar said. The plan is to have the men in recovery live on the island for several months, and then be served for a year or two longer while living off the island.
Based on well-known 12-step programs like Alcoholic Anonymous, the program will provide “a spiritual solution to a physical and emotional problem,” Hoar said.
The reason Mason’s Island residents are alarmed is that the only way on or off Enders Island is through Mason’s Island. Not only that, but St. Edmunds has proven itself a little inept at keeping track of the seven (now six) residents who inhabit its current, smaller 12 step rehab program:
The application for the program was submitted to the state Office of Health Care Access in January, but controversy did not arise until recently, when a young man at the center found some old wine in a basement and went on a crime spree after drinking it.
Jordon J. Seacor, 21, of Ossining, N.Y., was arrested twice and charged with criminal attempt to commit robbery, burglary, criminal mischief, stealing a car, driving under the influence of alcohol and attempting to elude police. Later that morning, the Mason’s Island property owners met for their annual meeting.
“He got it in his head to go home to New York, and he did some stupid things,” Hoar said.
It turns out that he got into a bad batch of homemade communion wine that was left unattended in the basement. Seacor also broke into a house and threatened a Mason’s Island resident with a knife, which I guess could be considered a “stupid thing.” This incident got Mason’s Island’s attention, and ignited their protest of St. Edmunds’ application on both legal and practical grounds. Legally, these areas are residential, meaning that they’re not zoned for a substance abuse treatment facility. And practically speaking:
A letter sent to the presidents of the Mason’s Island Fire District and Mason’s Island Homeowners Association, as well as the commodore of the Mason’s Island Yacht Club, also opposed the measure.
“You are, no doubt, aware that the retreat’s immediate next-door neighbor is the Mason’s Island Yacht Club, the scene all summer long, and from time-to-time in other seasons, of many children’s activities. Surely Enders Island is an inappropriate place in which to house addicts of any stripe[.]“
The city offered an interesting response to the zoning objections: While it’s true that these neighborhoods are not zoned for substance abuse treatment facilities, or indeed any other kind of medical or mental health counseling facilities, St. Edmunds is not actually offering substance abuse “treatment,” rather a substance abuse “program,” no different than the one they have been offering for 43 years. It is not transforming itself in any substantial way, “remaining primarily a religious facility.” If they were offering something with any record of success, their application might be taken more seriously:
Substance abuse treatment facilities are not permitted in the residential zone where the retreat center is located. Neither are hospitals, counseling centers, medical offices or other related operations. But Director of Planning Bill Haase pointed out Wednesday that like most towns, Stonington does not address substance programs anywhere in its regulations.
In a March 23 letter to the Rev. Thomas F.X. Hoar, who is the president of the Catholic retreat center, town planner Keith Brynes confirmed that no additional permitting is required from the town’s planning office for “state licensure of the alcohol recovery program at Enders Island.”
“It is the understanding of this office that there will be no increase in the number of beds, capacity, traffic or services offered for the recovery program and that there will be no new construction or changes to the site itself in these regards,” Brynes wrote. ” It is also our understanding that the St. Edmund’s retreat is prohibited by the Diocese of Norwich from becoming a full-fledged rehabilitation center as opposed to remaining primarily a religious facility. Since the early 1970s the Town has viewed the rehabilitation program at St. Edmund’s as part of the retreat’s operations.”
Hoar said earlier this week that for 43 years the retreat center has helped people with addictions to alcohol, drugs, gambling and sex.
Coincidentally, St. Edmunds has withdrawn its application in order to open up dialog with their neighbors. The PDF of their press release, dated 6/26/11 (if I remember correctly), keeps crashing my browser, so I’m not going to link to it. Here’s how it starts:
St. Edmunds Retreat, Inc., located on Enders Island officially withdrew its Certificate of Need Application with the State of Connecticut Office of Healthcare Access n June 23rd in order to provide time for improved dialogue with the community. The decision to withdraw the application was made by a Task Force created by the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and its determination that community concerns raised during the process of submittal for the application were unintentionally driving a wedge between the retreat and its neighbors.
I have sent an email to the Mason’s Island Homeowners Association to ask for some clarification or comment if they wish to provide any. My impression is that this could be framed as a NIMBY situation based upon the affluence of Mason’s Island. But I think it’s important to remember that this is just a variation on the sober living racket that afflicts all kinds of neighborhoods — and, more importantly, afflicts residents of these unregulated facilities, where people are sexually abused and OD as a matter of course, because they are not offered anything but AA. Also, according to the reports, Mason’s Island residents didn’t balk until one of St. Edmunds’ residents got drunk on communion wine, broke into a home, threatened someone with a knife, and stole a car. It’s also hair-on-fire alarming that St. Edmunds is also in the business of providing whatever for people with sex addiction.
It seems to me that by withdrawing their application (under the guise of community outreach) St. Edmunds is effectively disqualifying itself from legal scrutiny. It is now under no obligation to any of the standards it promised to uphold when it submitted its application — for instance, not allowing people with criminal backgrounds.