Retreat center hearing closed, Planning Board to deliberate

  • The Leyden Planning Board closed the public hearing on the proposed Greenfield Center last week, and will discuss the topic as a board on Wednesday at 7 p.m. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

  • Dr. David Greenfield speaks during a presentation to Leyden residents at the last public hearing meeting on the proposed Greenfield Center on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 10/7/2019 5:31:27 PM

LEYDEN — The Planning Board could soon decide on whether to allow a retreat center for people with compulsive video game and internet use into town, having closed its public hearing and scheduled another meeting to deliberate as a board.

The Planning Board will meet to discuss the application for the proposed Greenfield Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Residents must submit written comment before the meeting begins.

“It will likely come to an order of conditions,” Planning Board Chair Robert Snedeker said of the board’s pending decision.

Odyssey Behavioral Healthcare first went before the Planning Board in July to present its proposal for the compulsive video game and internet use retreat center. Odyssey plans to buy and convert Angels’ Rest Retreat Center at 63 North County Road.

During a subsequent public hearing on Thursday, Dr. David Greenfield, whom the center would be named after, addressed how applicants would be selected to participate in the program, assuring residents that people with serious mental health issues or histories of substance abuse, violent behavior or criminal activity would not be allowed.

“All of our participants will be thoroughly screened for appropriateness,” said Greenfield, who is the founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. “We want to make sure these people are safe for treatment.”

Interested parties would submit an inquiry form. A pre-enrollment survey would gather further details around their social, academic, work, legal and health history, as well their internet or video game use, he explained.

These surveys would be reviewed by Greenfield as the medical director of The Greenfield Center, and an executive director for the facility. A final stage of review would make financial arrangements.

While the original application included purchasing the home of Angels’ Rest owner Jennifer Paris at 155 Mid County Road to be used for counseling and therapeutic services and off-site office space, Odyssey representatives requested to remove the address from its application on Thursday.

Paris explained she will put her home up for a standard sale. Greenfield said the retreat center would instead try to find a space to lease, possibly in the city of Greenfield. While internet and gaming addiction was officially approved by the World Health Organization in July, it is still only provisionally approved by the American Psychiatric Association. Therefore, the Boston Public Health Commission requires the proposed facility to operate as a retreat center, therefore requiring any medical treatment to be conducted off grounds, which is why two separate sites are necessary.

Questions arise

During Thursday’s public hearing, residents both questioned and spoke in support of the retreat center.

Beth Kuzdeba, a pharmacist and health care professional of more than 30 years, questioned the plan, saying Odyssey hasn’t provided enough “black and white” information on the center’s operations.

“What’s going to happen in the event of an emergency? ... Where’s the site plan? Where will you have designated employee parking?” she asked.

Another resident inquired about the ratio of employees to patients. Bill Parsons, Odyssey’s vice president of development, said the facility would have one or two full-time employees for every five or six participants. While Parsons and Greenfield did not provide a full plan for emergencies, they said the facility would have employees on-duty 24 hours a day.

In response to another question about the capacity of the septic system, Greenfield explained that the program would launch with five to eight people with the potential to grow. Currently, the building’s septic tank can only sustain up to 20 full-time occupants, limiting the number of patients allowed at the facility. In accordance with state code, participants would count as full-time occupants, while a day and night shift employee would equate to one 24-hour occupant’s impact on utilities.

According to the Planning Board, Odyssey would need to undergo future review and permitting to renovate its septic, if it wanted to accommodate a larger occupancy.

‘I only see positive things’

Other residents expressed their hope that the board will grant Odyssey the necessary special permit.

“I think this is a wonderful program,” said Leyden resident Carla Davis. “I have had people in my family that I wish had a program like this to go to. I only see positive things coming out of it. ... They certainly sound responsible.”

Jerry Lund, a former Planning Board member, also spoke in support, describing the retreat center as an exciting opportunity for the town. He cited a history of substance abuse in the local area, one that even affected his family.

“I see this facility as another piece in the puzzle addressing these health issues. This particular behavioral health issue of addiction and video games is going to get more and more attention,” Lund said. “I would see Leyden as offering a chance to support an up-and-coming health care facility that could do wonderful things for our community, and the larger population.”

Conflicts of interestrecognized

At Thursday’s hearing, two board members read statements announcing their conflict of interest in voting on the center. David Curtis said that his conflict was due to his son having been previously employed by Angels’ Rest, and who could choose to seek employment at the new facility, if approved. Warren Facey Jr. is an abutter.

According to town counsel Donna MacNicol “the rule of necessity” allows the board members to vote, despite these conflicts of interest, because the Planning Board has no alternate members.

“As a five-member board, it needs four members for a super-majority,” she explained.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.


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