By Mike Melanson
PLYMPTON — More than 60 people attended a selectmen meeting Monday night to discuss a plan by a nonprofit organization to open a recovery house at 55 Brook St. in a residential neighborhood.
Brook Retreat is a five- to nine-month residential spiritual retreat dedicated to helping addicts and alcoholics recover through the immediate and rigorous application of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, although the retreat is not affiliated with AA.
It was founded in May by Tom Rielly, Michael Goedicke, and Joe Carroll, all recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of alcoholism and addiction.
Carroll said he has devoted the past three years of his life helping others recover from addiction.
Carroll said by age 20, he had been kicked out of college, and had to have a drink first thing in the morning.
“This thing crept up on me and kicked me down,” he said. “I take this work very seriously. It saved my life,” he said.
Rielly, who grew up in Kingston, said he was part of the heroin and opiate epidemic and got sober at a retreat house in Wakefield similar to the one proposed in Plympton.
Goedicke said his partners and he want to pass on the spiritual teachings that helped them recover to other addicts.
“We’re all nice kids, grew up in nice towns, and let the current drug epidemic overtake us,” he said.
Goedicke said the Brook Retreat house is the most efficient way to help addicts and alcoholics recover, and the last thing the proponents want to do is cause contention and fear.
He said there will be a number of protections in place to address concerns of neighbors:
• Staff will live in the house and be present at all times.
• There will be a zero-tolerance drug use policy. Those who use drugs will be expelled from the house.
• Guests must first spend 30 days in treatment before coming to Brook Retreat.
• Staff will do criminal and background checks of all guests. Those with sex, violent or arson offenses will not be allowed.
• There will be security cameras.
• Guests can not take opiate blocking medications nor mind altering medications.
• A sprinkler system will be installed.
• Guests must display spiritual qualities, such as honesty and selflessness.
Carroll said he wants Brook Retreat to be a resource to the community.
“The last thing we want to become is a nuisance to the town. We want to be an asset to the town,” he said.
Building Commissioner Thomas Millias said the ownership of 55 Brook St has changed.
Millias is acting as zoning enforcement officer in this case. Zoning Enforcement Officer Robert Karling, an abutter to the house, recused himself. Millias said single-family residences are allowed to have as many as four residents who are not related and not transients.
A transient is someone who is in town for one or two days and stays at a hotel, motel or short-term boarding house, he said.
Multi-family residents, those with more than four non-related, non-transient residents, are not allowed in residential single-family zones, under town bylaws.
However, under state law, they are allowed if non-profit corporation holds the house and has an educational plan, which does not have to be a traditional educational plan, he said.
Brook Retreat may not be occupied by more than four residents unless the house has a sprinkler system installed, which entails some expense, he said.
The town can regulate open space and parking on the property, a Planning Board function, Millias said.
“Once the requirements are met, there’s really nothing in place to say, ‘No, you cannot do this,’” he said.
Millias said the applicants asked him for a ruling on occupancy of as many as 16 people. The house would require sprinklers. The applicants would need to meet with the Board of Health for system requirements, he said.
The 14-day deadline for Millias to respond to the applicants’ request is today, Friday, Sept. 12.
Millias said he does not believe the applicants’ would meet requirements by then. They could request an extension, or Millias could deny the request. He said he believes they would eventually meet the requirements and come back.
“There is no reason not to grant it. It’s not a like or dislike situation. It’s the facts that are presented,” he said.
If Millias grants a permit, opponents could be appeal his decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals, he said.
Carroll said there are six bedrooms in the house. The three staff members will live in the house.
“We will not be squeezing 35 beds in six bedrooms,” he said. “This is our lives. It saved us. It is our career. It is what we’re passionate about.”
Jim Boucher of Mayflower Road said he believes the neighborhood is vulnerable and a recovery house would overburden police, fire and EMS, as well as affect taxes and property values.
“It’s just the way people feel in the neighborhood. You can’t blame them,” he said. “It’s nothing against you personally, but these are the impacts to the neighborhood.”
Bill Wilhelm of Duxbury, who does a sports talk show on WATD 95.9 FM in Marshfield, said the applicants are gentlemen who were on his program.
Wilhelm said he coached one of them in soccer.
Wilhelm said Brook Retreat would not add to the drug addiction problem in Plympton.
“You already have a drug addiction problem in Plympton. You have it all over the South Shore,” he said. “These guys are the cutting edge.”
Hessie Rubin of Maple Street said the applicants are gentlemen and she would like for Plympton to give them a vote of confidence.
Rubin said drug addiction and associated problems are all over the South Shore and likely on Brook Street too even without a recovery house.
“It’s a disease of secretive behavior. You don’t know who you know, who’s using or drinking too much. You must catch them in the act, and even then they will lie. That’s part of the disease,” she said.
Cathy Ferguson of Brook Street asked why the applicants should not buy a property in a commercial or business zone instead of in a residential neighborhood.
“The issue is: Is this the place for it?” she said. “It’s not the right spot.”
Larry Richmond of Plympton said residents would be disrupted by bringing in people from all over the state and beyond.
“They have access to our neighborhood and they’re not Plympton people,” he said.
Carroll said every town has a drug problem, and Brook Retreat has helped guide people into programs.
“We have already helped people from Plympton, comforted them, given them a plan of action to get their son the help they need,” he said.
Selectmen Chairman Mark Russo said the matter would be up to permitting, and that the discussion Monday was civil.
“It’s not the end of the conversation. It’s the beginning of the conversation,” he said.
In other action Monday, selectmen voted, 3-0, to adopt a residential factor of 1, which means all classes of property in Plympton — residential, commercial, industrial and personal property — will be taxed at the same rate, acting on the recommendations of the assessors.