Should Trout Run be added to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places?

That is the question. The question is not, and has not been, simply whether Trout Run is historic…to one degree or another.

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Here is how the item is listed on the agenda for the June 2nd meeting of the county council:

“To Consider Designation of ‘Trout Run (Richey Lodge’ located at 12929 Catoctin Hollow Road, as a Listed Site on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places”

This is exactly how it was worded on the cover sheet for the original staff report for this matter, sent to the Office of the County Executive on February 16, 2015.

In addition, rather than asking the council to determine if the property is historic, the February 16th Executive Summary asks:

“Should the County Executive/County Council add the property known as “Trout Run/Richey Lodge,” located at 12929 Catoctin Hollow Road near Thurmont to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.”

If you have read or heard about this issue, you may have gotten a sense of how complicated it has become, and the range of different concerns and issues that have been part of the official process and the ongoing public examination and discussion.

In no particular order, a short and partial list includes questions about whether or not this listing should be treated as a legislative matter; detailed critiques from professionals that the proposed facility is neither a “group home” or a “drug treatment and rehabilitation facility” by state law; concerns about numerous inaccuracies in the applicant’s documentation of the historical elements of Trout Run; formal complaints about violations of the Open Meeting Act; fears about the impact on Little Hunting Creek, a Class A trout stream, including the owner’s ability to side-step important environmental regulations and county oversight; doubts and frustration about the record being closed for more than a month (and council members not reading email from constituents about the issue); and, of course…the elephant in the room…very serious, even grave concerns about the very controversial Narconon “drug treatment program,” and the nature of its connection to Scientology.

But I’m not going to focus on those things here.

Instead, I’d like you to consider the following…

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

A few years ago, the property known and referred to here as Trout Run was comprised of approximately 463 acres, almost entirely surrounded by Cunningham Falls State Park, and located along Catoctin Hollow Road, less than a mile into the mountain from Highway 15, a few miles southwest of the town of Thurmont.

More than 90% of that property is a rich and mature forest, covering rocky slopes bisected by Little Hunting Creek, a beautiful, clear, boulder-strewn mountain trout stream.

Little Hunting Creek at Trout Run

Little Hunting Creek at Trout Run

For a good while Trout Run was considered a high-priority prospective purchase by the State of Maryland when they made their list of ecologically significant properties that ought to be protected. But, for years, the State could not afford the asking price (initially about $20,000,000.00). And so, Maryland made the decision, year after year, that the available funds could be better spent on a number of other targeted land acquisitions.

The price was too steep for other prospective buyers as well, and it did not sell. Gradually, the price came down, but still not enough to attract buyers. And, eventually, the owners decided to separate the developed portion from most of the wild acreage, and sell them as individual parcels. With the price dropping, and the parcel divided, and with the help of a federal grant, the State of Maryland (Department of Natural Resources) purchased 423 acres of Trout Run, for $1,491,500.00, on April 8, 2013.

MDeyeswildlandexpansion_cropThe newly acquired Trout Run acreage was made part of Cunningham Falls State Park, and in the 2014 legislative session in Annapolis, legislation was passed, and signed by the governor, that added the land to the Maryland Wildlands Preservation System.

From the Department of Natural Resources: “Maryland Wildlands are areas of state-owned land or water that have retained their wilderness character or contain rare or vanishing species of plant or animal life or similar features worthy of preservation. Designated by the Maryland General Assembly, they may include unique ecological, geological, scenic and contemplative recreational areas. These sites are Maryland’s equivalent to the federal Wilderness Preservation System.”

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THE REST OF TROUT RUN

The rest of the property, in two adjacent parcels comprised of about 40 acres, was purchased by West Coast Properties Investment Inc. (WCPI), which served as contract purchaser for an unnamed non-profit. That 40 acres, still called “Trout Run,” is the focus of the widespread concern and a growing controversy in our community.

The previously unnamed group for which WCPI served as the contract purchaser is Social Betterment Properties International According to their Articles of Incorporation, Social Betterment Properties International “is a nonprofit public benefit corporation […] organized to support Church of Scientology International by owning and managing real property used in Church of Scientology International’s charitable public benefit program.”

Also from the Articles of Incorporation: “In accordance with this Corporation’s status as an integrated auxiliary of Church of Scientology International, Church of Scientology International shall be the Sole Member of this Corporation.”

Social Betterment Properties International and Scientology purchased the property specifically for the establishment of a Narconon alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility.

All of the development on the original, much larger property, is found on these 40 acres, including 14 buildings and 10 structures (not a single one of which was constructed before the 1930s).

DRUG TREATMENT FACILITY NOT A USE PERMITTED ON LAND ZONED RESOURCE CONSERVATION

From the very beginning, the new owners of the developed portion of Trout Run (Social Betterment Properties International and Scientology) knew that what they intended to do with the property (a drug treatment facility) was not allowed there, or anywhere in a Resource Conservation zone.

The land had long been, and still is zoned Resource Conservation.

Resource Conservation Zoning (RC)

The purpose of the Resource Conservation Zoning District is to allow low intensity uses and activities which are compatible with the goal of resource conservation to be located within mountain and rural wooded areas. Areas within this district include mountain areas, rural woodlands, and cultural, scenic, and recreation resource areas. Environmentally sensitive areas within the resource conservation zone, including FEMA floodplain, steep slopes, wetlands and the habitats of threatened and endangered species, will be protected from development.

The new owners (as of April 2013) purchased the property anyway, because they knew, even though the proposed use was not permitted in that area, there was one possible path available to them.

And so, West Coast Properties Investment Inc., on behalf of Social Betterment Properties International, wasted no time pursuing two simultaneous and related objectives.

WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO GET THE DRUG TREATMENT FACILITY APPROVED IN A RESOURCE CONSERVATION ZONE

As it says in the Executive Summary (February 6, 2015) found in the staff report:

“Owners of County [Historic] Register properties may also seek a Special Exception from the Board of Appeals to gain access to additional uses not otherwise permitted in the Zoning Ordinance.”

But, in this case, things were a lot more complicated than that.

Certain, specific “uses” are expressly allowed in the various zoning categories in Frederick County. Every acre of the county is in one specific zoning category — or district — or another. The basic categories include zones such as Agricultural, General Commercial, Light Industrial, General Industrial, a number of different Residential categories, Village Center, Resource Conservation and more.

The county has a land USE TABLE which includes a long list of different types of land uses and activities, broken down by broad categories. It describes which land uses or activities are allowed in each zone, and whether or not they are a “principal permitted use” or, instead, whether they shall or may be permitted with certain required development review, such as a site development plan approval or a special exception.

As noted, Social Betterment Properties International and Scientology wanted to establish a Narconon alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility.

But the land use table doesn’t specifically include an alcohol and/or drug abuse treatment facility.

In fact, only two of the twelve “Institutional” land uses or activities are allowed in the Resource Conservation (RC) zone at all:

1) “Group homes, small private” and…

2) “Place of worship”

In the RC zone, “Group homes, small private” is a “principle permitted use subject to design regulations,” and “place of worship” is a “principle permitted use as a special exception with site development plan approval.”

That’s it. Again, under almost all circumstances, those are the only two institutional uses permitted in the Resource Conservation Zone. Almost all circumstances is the key here.

So…what did Social Betterment Properties International and Scientology know when they invested in the now-40-acre Trout Run property, in the Resource Conservation zone, to establish a Narconon alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility?

It’s complicated!

But the short version, first, is that things could work out for them if:

1) The new owners were to petition for the property to be listed on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places, AND…

2) The Frederick County Historic Preservation Council were to make a “Determination of Eligibility” and recommend to the County Council that the property be added to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places, AND…

3) The Zoning Administrator were to determine that a Narconon alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility fit into the definition of “Group home, large, AND…

4) The property owners were to apply for a Special Exception for an “alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility” (that the Zoning Administrator had authorized instead, as a “group home for an alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility”), and the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals were to approve the Special Exception (without considering whether or not the this particular “group home for an alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility” actually fit into the category of “Group home, large,” AND…

5) The Frederick County Council were to vote to list Trout Run on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

In addition, the county council members would probably have to be told that, in deliberating about and voting on whether or not to add Trout Run to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places, they were ONLY supposed to consider whether or not the property is historic, and they were to substantially differ to the experts (which, in this case, includes the Historic Preservation Commission and the consultant paid by the applicant).

That may seem, at best, to be a remarkably convoluted and complicated and unlikely sequence of events, but all of that has happened, so far, except for the vote of the county council.

It is my view, which is a view shared by many others in our community, many of whom have really been digging into this issue since it came to our attention, that the county council SHOULD vote no…that they should not approve the request to place Trout Run on the very short list of Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

Please bear with me a bit more, as we take a look at some of those parts of this process, since taking a closer look makes this seem even more messy…and error-filled.

NARCONON ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE TREATMENT FACILITY AS “GROUP HOME”

There is no listing for an “alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility” in the county land use table.

When a proposed use is not listed, as stated in the county code: “All questions of interpretation and enforcement shall be first presented to the Zoning Administrator…” (It goes on to say: “…and then such questions shall be presented to the Board of Appeals only on appeal from the decision of the Zoning Administrator, and recourse from the decisions of the Board of Appeals shall be to the courts as provided by law.”)

In this case, the Zoning Administrator, Mr. Larry Smith, decided that the proposed use could fit into the definition of Group home, large.

This was an absolutely critical…even if debatable…determination.

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As noted, an alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility is not permitted in a Resource Conservation zone.

A “Group home, small private” is allowed in a Resource Conservation zone, as a “Principle permitted use subject to design regulations.” But that would not work for Social Betterment Properties International (Scientology) and Narconon, as it is defined this way:

GROUP HOME, SMALL PRIVATE: A residence that houses not more than 8 individuals who require specialized living arrangements and provides health services and supervision to those individuals.

But a “Group home, large” is defined this way:

GROUP HOME, LARGE: “A residence that admits at least 9 but not more than 16 individuals who require specialized living arrangements and provides health services and supervision to those individuals.”

However, a Group Home, large, which gets closer to the number of “residents” Narconon is planning to have on site, is NOT permitted in a Resource Conservation zone, even with a Special Exception.

Which leads us to the real reason — the only significant reason — that Social Betterment Properties International and Narconon petitioned for Trout Run to be added to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

§ 1-19-8.600. HISTORIC STRUCTURES OR SITES.

The Board of Appeals may grant a special exception in any zoning district, for the conversion of an existing historic structure or site into a restaurant, inn, antique shop, museum, information center, business or professional office, group home use, or a facility for functions such as seminars, festivals, cultural or social events, or other similar activities of historic interest, provided that off-street parking requirements of this chapter are met. Such conversion shall not result in any substantial external alteration of the appearance of the historic structure or site. Historic structure or site as used in this section only means a structure or site listed on or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the Maryland Register of Historic Places or the Frederick County Register of Historic Places. All requests for special exception under this section shall be referred to the Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission for determination of eligibility for placement on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places, and for review and comment. Before the special exception can take effect, the historic structure or site must be listed on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

To wit: if the property is added to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places, the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals may allow certain uses that would not otherwise be allowed there, even with a special exception.

This has been described as a loophole. And it is, even if it has a sound rationale.

When the Frederick County Register of Historic Places was established, the ordinance was written to create some incentives for property owners to invest in the restoration and preservation of their historic property.

That is why, for instance, the owners of properties on the list are eligible for tax credits. It is also part of the thinking behind the ability to grant a special exception for certain uses. For example, someone who owns an old mansion in the countryside (in this example, that means in a Resource Conservation zone) might be more likely to invest in rehabilitating the structure if it were possible to convert it into a small inn or other business.

It is easy to imagine the discussions that took place when the Frederick County Register of Historic Places was being developed, and those drafting the ordinance considered a list of possible uses that were not allowed, but might encourage the restoration and preservation of certain properties if they were allowed, while remaining in harmony with the area and compatible with the zoning.

I wasn’t in the room for that discussion, but it seems like a very good bet that when they filled out a short list of such uses, including “restaurant, inn, antique shop, museum, information center, business or professional office, group home,” they were not thinking of something that had twenty or more residents and staff living on the site, with eight or more additional staff coming to work, multiple buildings for housing, offices, a separate dining hall, a bath house, a laundry house, storage buildings, multiple parking areas and more, in the forest, on well and septic, etc.

Click on the site map  to open a larger and easier version.

Click on the site map to open a larger and easier version.

THE FREDERICK COUNTY REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES

The register has not been around for a long time (just 16 years), and, to date, only ten properties are currently on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places. Ten.

Here are criteria that are supposed to be considered by the reviewing agencies, boards, or commissions when considering any property for designation to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places:

(1) Historic, archaeological, and cultural significance:

(a) The property has significant character, interest, or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the county, state, or nation;

(b) The property is the site of an historic event;

(c) The property is identified with a person or group of persons who influenced society; or

(d) The property exemplifies the cultural, economic, social, political, or historic heritage of the county and its communities.

(2) Architectural and design significance:

(a) The property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or architecture;

(b) The property represents the work of a master craftsman, architect, or builder;

(c) The property possesses significant artistic value;

(d) The property represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction;

(e) The property represents an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood, community, or county, due to its singular physical characteristics, landscape, or historical event; or

(f) The property is a rare example of a particular period, style, material, or construction technique.

HPClogocolor280wPlease note that there are no grading or scoring systems for the Historic Preservation Commission to apply. There isn’t a set number of the ten criteria that should or must be met. And there is nothing established about the degree to which a property under consideration meets any of the criteria.

In the case of Trout Run, the Historic Preservation Commission determined that, to some unspecified degree, three of the ten considerations applied to the property.

• The property exemplifies the cultural, economic, social, political, or historic heritage of the county and its communities.

• The property embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or architecture. And…

• The property represents the work of a master craftsman, architect, or builder.

That’s it. The Historic Preservation Commission judged that, to some degree, three of the ten items applied to Trout Run. Putting aside the fact that we now know that not all of the information provided to the commission was accurate or complete, the commissioners decided that was sufficient to recommend that Trout Run become the eleventh property on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

There is nothing in the ordinance that says that meeting three criteria, to some degree, is the threshold. It could be one, or six. The members of the commission make a subjective decision, based on the information provided, and, ultimately, focused narrowly on only the list above — or, in other words, only on historic elements.

Moreover, their decision is not a decision.

The commissioners vote on whether or not to make a recommendation. Their role in process of adding properties to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places is advisory. and only advisory. It is to “make recommendations thereon to the appropriate authorities.”

Any such recommendation “shall proceed to the county governing body.”

The ordinance very clearly states that “a petition for designation of an area of special merit shall require a favorable vote of the County Council.”

PLEASE NOTE, there is absolutely NOTHING that delineates or describes ANYTHING with regard to what individual county council members, or the county council collectively, may or may not, can or can not consider when deliberating about and voting on whether or not to add a property to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

It is the role and responsibility of the Historic Preservation Commission to do their job, which is relatively narrow in focus, and make a recommendation to the council. And it is the role and responsibility of the County Council to consider that, along with a broader range of questions, and the short and long term interest of their constituents and the overall community — Frederick County.

COUNTY COUNCIL RECEIVES BAD COUNSEL FROM COUNTY COUNSEL

Or, in other words, the members of the Frederick County council received bad advice or incorrect guidance from attorneys on the county staff.

When the county legal staff has strongly advised the council members — and many who watched it might say strongly admonished — that the vote to list Trout Run, or not, was only about whether the property is historic, and that they should not consider anything else, they were wrong.

And, with the record closed for more than a month, citizens have not even been able to point this out to their representatives on the council.

Again, the council is not voting about whether or not Trout Run is “historic,” in some way, to some degree. The issue, as their own agenda and staff report states is:

“To Consider Designation of ‘Trout Run (Richey Lodge’ located at 12929 Catoctin Hollow Road, as a Listed Site on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places”

And the question, as stated in the February 16th Executive Summary gets it exactly right:

“SHOULD the County Executive/County Council add the property known as “Trout Run/Richey Lodge,” located at 12929 Catoctin Hollow Road near Thurmont to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.”

The operative word there is:

SHOULD

And in deliberating that question, a careful reading of the law makes it clear that they can — and, I think, should — consider whether or not this is the right place to set the bar for designation, now and in the future; whether or not they think the proposed use is more or less likely to actually restore and preserve the property; whether or not the members of the Historic Preservation Commission had enough, or accurate enough, information when making their recommendation; whether or not they think the Zoning Administrator lacked sufficient information or erred when determining that the proposed alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility fit properly into the “group home” designation; whether or not they think the proposed use poses a risk to Little Hunting Creek (the Class A trout stream that flows through the middle of the property, where most of the buildings are entirely or partially in the flood plain); and any number of other questions that relate to whether or not it is proper, or in the interest of the community, to add this property to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.


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County Council meeting agenda (Tuesday, June 2, 2015, at 4:30): http://www.frederickcountymd.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/6524

Staff Report: http://www.frederickcountymd.gov/DocumentCenter/View/279794


No Narconon at Trout Run on the web

No Narconon at Trout Run on Facebook

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NARCONON exposed


A selection of related media coverage…

Frederick News Post Letter to the Editor
Trout Run stonework isn’t historic
Sunday, May 31, 2015

Frederick News Post article
Frederick County Council prepares for vote on Trout Run historic designation
Saturday, May 30, 2015

Frederick News Post article
Myths obscure Trout Run’s past
Saturday, May 30, 2015

Frederick News Post Letter to the Editor
Trout Run vote needs informed consent
May 24, 2015
by Carrie Larson

New York Times article
Plan to Preserve and Use Maryland Site for Scientology-Backed Rehab Angers Locals
May 20, 2015

Frederick News Post article
Group speaks out against Narconon’s plans for Trout Run
Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Frederick News Post article
‘No Narconon at Trout Run’ gaining steam
Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Frederick News Post column
No to Narconon
Friday, May 8, 2015
by Shannon Green

Eye on our Community on 1450 AM WTHU The Source
Kai Hagen Mark Long continue the discussion about the Trout Run / Narconon controversy
May 8, 2015

Eye on our Community on 1450 AM WTHU The Source. T
Kai Hagen and Dave Schmidt and callers discuss the Trout Run / Narconon controversy
May 5, 2015

Envision Frederick County column
Narconon at Trout Run: “People of the Lie”
April 27, 2015
by Mark Long

Washington Post article
Frederick Council delays vote on Scientology-backed rehab center
April 21, 2015

Washington Post article
Scientology-backed drug rehab triggers a furor near Camp David
April 20, 2015

WHAG (your4state.com VIDEO)
Approval for Scientology-Linked Drug Treatment Center
April 20, 2015


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TIMELINE

April 8, 2013 State of Maryland (DNR) purchases 423 acres of Trout Run (for $1,491,500.00), and West Coast Properties Investment Inc (WCPI) serves as contract purchaser for unnamed non-profit.

NOTE: The property now owned by “Social Betterment Properties International” is actually two parcels, one of 26.8 acres remainder of parcel 2 map 24 and one of 13.1 acres, remainder of parcel 38, map 25.

May 13, 2013 Purchase Agreement between West Coast Properties Investment Inc (WCPI) and Trout Run, LLC

July 14, 2013 HPC meeting at which county planner Denis Superczynski suggested adding the 1970 house on the 13.1 acre parcel, as well as the 1960 lodge on the 26.8 acre parcel to the Frederick County Register of Historic Places, thereby changing the “date of significance from the 1940’s to 1960.

August 5, 2013, West Coast Properties Investment Inc, as contract purchaser, signed the Frederick County Nomination for the 40 acres

August 14, 2013 Frederick County Historic Preservation Commission affirms its Determination of Eligibility for the property.

August 14, 2013 Letter from the HPC to Alan Duke, Chair of the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals

August 22, 2013 Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting where a Special Exception to convert the 40-acre site into a group home facility was approved. SE only sites parcel 38.

September 4, 2013 Deed was filed between Social Betterment and Trout Run LLC

October 1, 2013 Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals signs Finding and Decisions for group home to West Coast Properties Investment Inc, although property belonged to Social Betterment Properties International and no revised application or assigned representation were provided from Social Betterment Properties International.

November 18, 2014 Transmittal from R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates, Inc to county planner Denis Superczynski of the Nomination Form and Supporting Documentation for Inclusion in the Frederick County Register of Historic Place

December 3, 2014 HPC held a public meeting to consider two items related to 1) the re-certification of the Determination of Eligibility (DOE 14-03) previously granted in August 2013 (DOE 13-01), since over a year had passed in the interim period; and 2)//www.fredertion seeking to list the Trout Run property on the County Register (CR 14-03). The HPC re-certified the Determination of Eligibility for the 40-acre Trout Run site, including the expanded period of significance through 1970. The HPC also recommended that the County Executive/County Council list the Trout Run site on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places.

February 13, 2015 Memo from county planner Denis Superczynski to the Office of the County Executive regarding the “Scheduling of Public Hearing/Approval Process — Trout Run (Richey Lodge) #CR-14-03 County Register Listing

February 16, 2015 Staff Report sent to the Office of the County Executive

April 7, 2015 County Council public hearing “To Consider Designation of ‘Trout Run (Richey Lodge’ located at 12929 Catoctin Hollow Road, as a Listed Site on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places” RECORD CLOSED

April 21, 2015 County Council public meeting/hearing (continued from

June 2, 2015 County Council public meeting (continued from April 21, 2015) “To Consider Designation of ‘Trout Run (Richey Lodge’ located at 12929 Catoctin Hollow Road, as a Listed Site on the Frederick County Register of Historic Places”