The Tilton Sports Center is located in the rural agricultural zone. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
TILTON — Plans for a substance abuse recovery center at the Tilton Sports Center have created a quandary for local planners, who are approaching a second meeting next month to consider how this addiction-treatment facility may fit with the town's ordinances.
"There isn't a line in the chart of permitted uses in the zoning ordinance that necessarily addresses every use," said Tilton Town Planner Dari Sassan.
Sassan said he suggested that the applicants approach the Planning Board and ask for an adult care facility, which is permitted in the rural agricultural zone.
A hospital or sanitarium is not allowed in this zone. Those types of uses are permitted in Tilton's mixed use district and general commercial district, Sassan said, and potentially by special exception in the resort commercial district.
The Adult Recovery Center would provide a "curriculum" — typically a three- to five-week treatment program — at 100 Autumn Drive, home of the Tilton Sports Center, according to the application.
At a public hearing on March 28, planners heard from a large crowd of residents, many questioning the proposed facility. Some parents at the meeting voiced concerns about the center opening so close to athletic facilities for children, according to WMUR-TV.
A Facebook page, No Opiate Rehab In Tilton, encouraged the public to attend planning board hearings and weigh in on the application.
On Tuesday, May 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Tilton Town Hall, the Tilton Planning Board is scheduled to revisit the proposal.
The application has not yet been formally accepted for deliberation, Sassan said, noting review was delayed or "continued" to that meeting.
Planners are trying to "sort out in their own minds" what type of use is proposed, Sassan said.
"They do have a question before them of whether it's a development of regional impact," he said.
On Thursday at 7 p.m., the Sanbornton Planning Board is scheduled to receive an update on the proposal. The agenda reads: 'Update re application to Tilton Planning Board for conversion of Tilton Indoor Sports Complex to overnight opioid rehab center located on Autumn."
Sassan said the Sanbornton community could fall within the scope of a "development of regional impact," a category of land use that by state law involves more than a local concern, typically because the proposed use affects a neighboring municipality.
The law's purpose is to "provide timely notice to potentially affected municipalities concerning proposed developments which are likely to have impacts beyond the boundaries of a single municipality."
A "development of regional impact" expands the number of people who are entitled to notification, and in the case of the Adult Recovery Center application, likely would require another continuance because of a 10-day notice requirement, Sassan said.
Applicants declined to comment on the proposal, noting that updates may be available at a later date.
The application explains, "We are not a detox or medical facility; however, we do employ medical assistants, licensed drug and alcohol counselors, residential treatment staff, awake overnight treatment staff, fitness personnel, and a variety of other staff. All guests must be abstinent from alcohol and illicit drugs for a minimum of 72 hours at the time of admission. Those not coming directly from detox, will be required to provide documentation from a licensed medical provider, certifying that they are detoxed and medically stable. We may require urine or breathalyzer test at time of admission, or at any point during your stay."
The application continues, "We are not a day program or walk in facility. Completion of our curriculum typically requires three to five weeks."
The Planning Board will wrestle with the defined use, and whether a variance, or departure from the zoning ordinance, is needed, Sassan said. If a variance is considered necessary, then the Planning Board likely would send the applicant to the local Zoning Board, he said.
In the past, the town granted a variance to the sports complex allowing for indoor commercial recreational amusement, Sassan said. The site has a diverse history, formerly hosting a film studio, light manufacturing and a warehouse, he said.
The site received a variance in recent years to allow certain types of medical offices, along the lines of noninvasive medicine such as massage and wellness-related health services, Sassan said. The proposal to provide substance-abuse recovery services was a first in Sassan's experience in Tilton.
"I've been in Tilton a little over three years now, and this is the first application that I can think of for something specifically along these lines," Sassan said.
While town officials field questions about methadone clinics and other types of services or facilities specifically geared to alcohol and drug addiction recovery, "this is the first one that has gone forward to a Planning Board hearing," Sassan said.
Based on the state's continuing struggle with opiate addiction, more proposals like this one may follow, Sassan said.
"I expect planning boards in other communities will be dealing with similar matters," he said.