Northern Arm - An addictions treatment centre proposed for Northern Arm may open despite opposition from residents, but in a different form - as a resort for people in recovery.
On Dec. 18, the town council voted 6-1 against changing zoning regulations to allow the property to be used as a treatment centre.
The proponents of Serenity On the Rock had submitted a development application to the town of Northern Arm, near Botwood, stating they wanted to open a private addictions centre. They had acquired a building near the town's Pendragon walking trail.
"In order to accommodate the request, Northern Arm's town council would have to change zoning regulations," said Mayor Gail Hancock.
"There was a vote taken in council to decide whether or not to change the use of the land. ... People were strongly opposed in making any change to the land."
Councillors heard presentations from individuals in town, as well as from Sherri Skeans, who is partnering with the owner/operator of a similar facility in Alberta.
The bottom line was that people just felt the location was wrong, Hancock said.
"I believe the residential aspect was certainly an issue, and there are residential properties right next door," she said.
"I think people, in general, tend to be a little hesitant about changes of any sort - of the unknown - because there is no private facility anywhere else in the province that we could compare it to."
Skeans said she didn't expect the town to vote based on the fear of a few people. Instead, she thought council should have looked at it from the perspective of the town plan, and how well the centre could fit into the community.
"Unfortunately, they went on the fear side, discriminating against individuals with mental-health (issues) and addictions," she said.
"It wasn't really based on fact. It was based on fear, and fear of the unknown," Skeans said.
She said some residents described addicts as criminals who should be in jail, and compared them to rapists and murderers.
"They even went so far to say if the centre were to open, then (the recent mass killing in Connecticut) could happen in Northern Arm," she said.
"A real lack of awareness was present and the town went based on that fear, despite accounts from people asking for a plebiscite to hear from others, not just a few outspoken ones."
Skeans and her Serenity partners are hoping to open the addictions centre using a different strategy.
"The building is zoned for commercial tourism, so we can open it as a resort and cater to individuals in recovery," Skeans said. "I'm sure the same people will be upset about that, but once they know who these individuals are, then they will understand a bit better and we'll create some more community awareness."
— The Advertiser