ALFRED, Maine – The proposed York County substance use recovery center is poised to move on to the next step in the local permitting process now that the bed count for the facility has been set.
The Alfred Planning Board on Jan. 8 approved the county’s request for reasonable accommodation under federal and state laws that speak to disability and non-discrimination. The unanimous vote by the six planning board members present – Chair Andrew Bors, Al Carlson, Dottie Guinard, Owen Brochu, Michael Gibney and Lee Steele – means the proposed recovery center may accommodate 58 people in 50 treatment beds and eight observation beds. The county’s application for the recovery center must comply with all other relevant criteria, according to the planning board vote. Those matters will be addressed by the board at a later scheduled meeting, following a review of the application by an independent third party.
The number of beds allowed at the proposed recovery center had been a bit of a sticking point. Alfred’s 2019 ordinance calls for a limit of 30 beds – six less than the 36-bed York County facility called Layman Way Recovery Center, which treats nonviolent arrestees who would otherwise be incarcerated, awaiting trial. That facility opened with municipal approvals in 2018.
York County intends to close the Layman Way facility and consolidate the 36 beds there in the new 58-bed facility on another county-owned lot near York County Jail.
County attorney Gene Libby pointed out that an exception to the municipal ordinance could be made as a reasonable accommodation and cited the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and the Maine Human Rights Act.
“These reasonable accommodations have been applied to local zoning ordinances,” Libby said. “Substance abuse is without question a disability covered by the Maine Human Rights Act and federal statutes.” He noted treatment is covered under the provisions.
“I think there’s a need, I think this is doable, and we can work this out,” said Bors.
“If you are inclined to grant it, you could do so,” said Attorney Leah Rachin, counsel for the Alfred Planning Board, of the county’s request. She said such requests are not an attempt to invalidate the ordinance, but to make an accommodation.
Some planning board members wondered if 58 beds would indeed be the limit or if the county would come forward at some future date to request more beds.
Libby and York County Manager Greg Zinser pointed out the recovery center would be built primarily with funding the county received from the American Recovery Plan Act instituted as a result of the pandemic – a onetime allocation. York County received about $40 million from the federal initiative and has pledged funding for the recovery center, a first responder training center and for some area endeavors like a teen center in Biddeford, a regional dredge, and housing-related initiatives with Sanford Housing Authority and in southern York County.
Zinser noted the county would surrender the land use permit for the current Layman Way Recovery Center the county plans to shutter and said the building would be used for storage.
“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” said Zinser following the unanimous vote.
The recovery center will include detoxification beds – there are currently none in York County – along with short, medium, and long-term treatment beds. The eight observation beds would be used for initial intake where someone would be assessed before admission.
A date for the next planning board meeting on the recovery center and the first responder training center has not yet been set.
According to the Maine Drug Hub, a collaboration of several state departments, the Governor’s Office and the University of Maine, there were 72 non-fatal drug overdoses reported by emergency medical providers in York County in November 2023, and 955 non-fatal overdoses from January through November that year. There were three confirmed and suspected fatal overdoses in November, and 61 from January through November 2023.