Should Canton place a moratorium on new hospitals and convalescent or nursing homes?
George T. Comeau
Canton resident, former Planning Board member, current member of the town’s Historical Commission
As Canton moves forward, it is imperative that we pause to reflect, plan, and act responsibly on development. The proposed article before the May 16 Special Town Meeting is just that – a one-year moratorium to study and plan appropriately for hospitals, convalescent facilities, and nursing homes. This proposal examines one part of our zoning bylaw that lacks proper definition.
Opponents of the temporary moratorium argue that this zoning bylaw is directed at the company proposing a 48-bed inpatient detoxification center at the site of the Bay State School of Technology on Turnpike Street. Quite simply, this is not the case. The proposal for the detoxification center, currently in the hands of the Zoning Board of Appeals, should not be affected by this proposed zoning change. Since they have already filed a plan with the Planning Board, that project’s proponents may be able to operate under existing zoning for up to three years.
The proposed moratorium is not about precluding access to opioid treatment facilities in Canton. But the fact that the community is grappling with questions surrounding a use not previously contemplated by Town Meeting is precisely why this moratorium is needed.
The purpose of the moratorium is clear. It would set aside a reasonable amount of time for Canton to complete a comprehensive planning study the town intends to undertake on the zoning issues at hand. The intent is to manage further regulation of uses within this section of the bylaw. The zoning issues surrounding locating detoxification centers are complex.
When coupled with an aging population and new delivery of other medical services, the time is ripe for precise planning to regulate future medical, nursing, and convalescent facilities. Study, reflection, community input, and technical planning is required. This narrowly tailored proposal allows that thoughtful process to go forward to its conclusion.
There are no exceptional circumstances at present, or any risk to the general welfare of the community, that preclude the town from placing this brief pause in development of these types of facilities in our town. In the interim year, we will craft a modern application of a bylaw that meets the needs of the entire community. This is what a pause will mean for Canton.
Paul A. Schneiders
Canton resident, attorney, former state representative
I oppose the Town Meeting article that would put a one-year moratorium on convalescent homes, as well as hospitals and nursing homes.
Like every community in Massachusetts, Canton has serious substance abuse problems. We all have lost friends or relatives to this scourge, so we should do something about it. I have a client who wants to locate a convalescent home for substance abuse treatment now and not have to wait 12 months — a delay that would be required if, as we fear, this moratorium is determined to apply to his proposal. He has lost close friends and relatives to this addiction crisis.
Some opponents of the rehab center claim this is a developer trying to make money. Partially true, but this fellow happens to be one of those developers who would like to help solve a serious community problem while still staying in business.
At first glance, a moratorium seems like a good idea. The town does not want to “rush into anything.” But our convalescent bylaw has been in effect for 30 years. It has been reviewed and utilized many times in the past three decades.
Moreover, the substance-abuse crisis shows no signs of abating. In 2016, there were 2,083 confirmed deaths from opioid-related drug overdoses in Massachusetts. Six people die in Canton each year, based on data from 2015 and 2016. But that is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the local opiate problem. Even when there is no death, the suffering caused individuals and their families by substance abuse is staggering.
A serious study of where convalescent homes should be located in Canton could be concluded in a very short time. The town has excellent full-time personnel who could start the study at once, including the town planner, the town administrator, the building commissioner, and the police and fire chiefs, both of whom have urged immediate action on the substance abuse crisis.
During a 12-month moratorium, more of our fellow residents, young and old, will continue to suffer and die at an alarming pace. The time to act is now. I urge my fellow residents to oppose the moratorium.
(This is an informal poll, not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.)