WARREN, Maine — Residents overwhelmingly voted at a special town meeting Monday night to keep a proposed methadone clinic out of their town for at least six months.
Officials counted about 240 people who crowded into the Warren Community School gym for the meeting. Of those, only one person voted against the six-month methadone clinic moratorium — and she may have done so because the measure did not go far enough, one municipal official speculated.
“This is an astonishing crowd,” resident Hugh Magbie of Warren said after the vote. “This town has come together on this issue. This is a fantastic way to galvanize your town into action, and this is just the beginning.”
Warren’s methadone saga began in September when developer Bob Emery obtained a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the school from the town. At that time, Emery appeared before the planning board seeking approval to rent the building as professional office space, telling board members that he had no tenants yet.
“When selectmen signed the purchase-and-sales agreement, they had no knowledge of the intended usage of the building,” Town Manager Grant Watmough said after the moratorium vote.
When CRC Health Group, one of the country’s largest methadone clinic companies, began meeting with townspeople, word spread that the building’s next tenant might be a methadone clinic.
CRC’s interest in operating a clinic in Warren developed when the Turning Tide clinic in Rockland was shut down by state and federal officials in August after the owner was charged with felony cocaine possession.
Although public opposition to the project has been vehement in the rural community of 4,000, with residents gathering 600 signatures on a petition demanding the town cancel its purchase-and-sale agreement with Emery, officials said there are no regulations now in Warren that would prohibit the building’s use as a methadone clinic.
Code Enforcement Officer Bill O’Donnelly said Monday night that he hopes that the moratorium will help the town to tighten its zoning ordinances, which now are fairly relaxed.
“Most people are very wary of zoning,” he said. “I hope this makes people realize they need to do things to protect the town. A good way to do that is through zoning.”
Although residents had the chance to discuss the moratorium before they voted at the special town meeting, someone shouted out that the time for talking was over. The few comments that were heard by the crowd before townspeople “called the question” primarily had to do with whether Warren could include marijuana dispensaries in the moratorium.
Watmough said that town attorney Patrick Mellor had advised officials to limit the moratorium to methadone clinics.
At the meeting, no one spoke in favor of methadone clinics and neither Emery nor any representative from CRC Health Group was in attendance, according to the town manager.
Jeanne King of Warren said that she voted for the moratorium in part to maintain the community’s peaceful character.
“We don’t feel that Warren village is the place for a methadone clinic, between the traffic and all the other problems,” she said.
During the moratorium, the town will develop “reasonable regulations” governing the location and operation of methadone clinics, according to the ordinance.
The next step for the Board of Selectmen will be to decide how they want to proceed with the regulation process, Watmough said.
The community’s message is clear, he said.
“The people have spoken,” he said. “The selectmen have understood.”