Newbury board rejects Vermont youth treatment facility

  • The Newbury property under consideration at a Development Review Board hearing to consider the application by Vermont Permanency Initiative seeking approval to operate the “Woodside Replacement.” The meeting took place at Newbury Elementary School in Newbury, Vt., on Saturday, October 2, 2021. (Rob Strong photograph) Rob Strong

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/15/2021 5:10:58 PM
Modified: 11/16/2021 3:54:20 PM

NEWBURY, Vt. — The Newbury Development Review Board unanimously denied a conditional use permit for a proposed six-bed secure residential treatment facility for young people.

In its decision issued Friday, the seven-member board found that the proposed facility, Covered Bridge Treatment Center, would not match the character of the area and would exceed the town’s capacity for emergency services as well as the capacity of the Class 4 road, Stevens Place, where the facility would sit.

“The danger represented to the community by the proposed facility is most clearly reflected in the Applicant’s $3 million in security upgrades,” the board wrote in its decision.

The new treatment center would replace a former bed and breakfast on a 280-acre property at the end of the rural Stevens Place west of Interstate 91. Plans for upgrades include installing detention-grade windows; secure walls; locked doors; 24-hour video monitoring; and a central security control room. A planned outdoor recreation area would be surrounded by a 12-foot-high fence. State officials have said they expect the planned renovations would total about $3.2 million and the annual operating budget for the facility would be about $3 million.

The proposed facility would replace the former Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center in Essex, Vt., which closed last fall when there were no residents occupying the jail-like facility’s 30 beds and the state faced legal battles related to employees’ previous use of restraints on young people.

The treatment center would be leased to the Vermont Department for Children and Families and operated by Becket Family of Services, which is based in Orford and owns the Stevens Place property. It is slated to accommodate up to six boys between the ages of 11 and 17, who are involved with the juvenile justice and/or child welfare systems, and are at risk of self-harm or harm to others.

State officials were not available to comment on the board’s decision Monday, said Pam Dalley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Children and Families.

“Since this decision just came out on Friday, the Commissioner and others have not yet had a chance to process and discuss the next steps, so they are not able to provide comments at this time,” Dalley said in an email.

Becket officials also did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

In hearings, state and Becket officials pitched the project as key to helping struggling Vermont youths get treatment of mental and behavioral issues in order to become contributing members of society as adults.

In its decision, the board notes that Newbury is one of 26 towns served by the Vermont State Police’s St. Johnsbury barracks and that response time could be as long as 45 minutes. The town also contracts with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for some services. Response times by other emergency services, such as fire and ambulance, depend on the availability of volunteers.

“The DRB concludes that the demand for emergency response services resulting from the proposed project, particularly law enforcement services, will exceed the available capacity of such services, having an adverse effect on the capacity to provide services to the proposed facility itself and elsewhere in the community,” the board wrote.

The board also rejected the idea that the project fit the description of a residential care home, group home or school, or that it is owned by the community or state, which would have limited the board’s purview over the project.

The board’s decision comes following a two-part hearing earlier this fall at which many members of the community expressed opposition to the facility. Community members expressed concerns about the security of the facility, as well as the appropriateness of the location, given its rural nature and distance from services such as police; and the potential impact on the surrounding environment.

In 2013, Becket converted the property to serve as a less restrictive 12-bed treatment center, with unlocked windows and doors. The DRB’s 2013 decision allowing that use required that no physical changes be made to the facility, other than some lighting and a sign. In its Friday decision, the board found that the proposed modifications to make the facility secure would be in conflict with that earlier finding.

The board also found the proposal to be in conflict with the Town Plan, which directs development toward established villages and hamlets, not the “conservation and natural resources area” where the proposed facility would sit.

“The proposed project has the character of a secure detention facility that directly conflicts with the agricultural, forestry, and residential purposes of the CD-10 District,” the board wrote. “With $3 million in security upgrades, the proposed facility also represents the type of ‘significant commercial ... development’ that is not appropriate for the CD-10 District.”

The board also found that Stevens Place is not maintained or plowed in the winter by the town, making it an inappropriate location for the facility.

The board’s denial was welcomed by residents on a community Facebook page on the topic and by the Montpelier-based attorney representing Concerned4Newbury, a group organized by community members in response to the project.

“Concerned4Newbury has understood from early on that the proposed facility is inconsistent with the Town Plan, and is simply not allowed under the Newbury zoning regulations,” Nick Low said in a Monday email. “We are happy to see the DRB has reached the same conclusion in a well-reasoned and legally sound decision.”

The board’s decision may be appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court within 30 days. In addition to the DRB’s approval, the project also is undergoing Act 250 review by the Natural Resources Review Board.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




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