Stowe could someday be home to a clinic for people struggling with substance use disorders.
Town zoning officials determined this week that, at least on the outside, it won’t be much different from the private school it will replace.
The development review board authorized zoning administrator Sarah McShane to issue a change-of-use permit for Silver Pines Stowe, a “medically supervised withdrawal treatment center” at 3430 Mountain Road.
The address most recently housed the North American Hockey Academy, which moved earlier this year to Boston.
William Cats-Baril, the driving force behind Silver Pines, said after the meeting that the “town support in changing the use was critical” for the project. The next major hurdle is getting approval from the Green Mountain Care Board, which oversees health care in Vermont.
“We’re not there yet, but it’s a huge step forward,” Cats-Baril said. “Now, we need as many people to cross their fingers as possible.”
Cats-Baril envisions Silver Pines as a world-class facility, on par with the Betty Ford Center or Mayo Clinic.
The proposed treatment system is proprietary — in a Sept. 23 letter of intent to the Green Mountain Care Board, Cats-Baril refers to “neural network-based algorithms, using machine-learning principles” that customize each patient’s treatment regimen — but he said it would mark a “new approach to treating addiction.” Patients would be in-house for at least seven to 14 days, and be attended to at a nearly one-to-one staff-patient ratio.
Cats-Baril told the review board Monday that patients at Silver Pines will be there of their own volition, unlike some facilities where courts can send people for treatment as part of the criminal rehabilitation process.
“This is a completely and totally voluntary facility,” he said. “Nobody there will be there against their will.”
He said there will be security systems in place, and all of the staff will be trained in de-escalation tactics, but there will be no guards. Rather, patients will have electronic key cards to get in and out of their rooms, and they will turn over all of their identification, credit cards and the like to the front desk when they check in.
“It is very important that you don’t take their dignity away,” he said. “The last thing you want to do is have a guard protecting the door.”
Silver Pines will be completely residential, and patients will stay there for the duration of their treatment, many of them transported by staff to the clinic and then to a longer-term recovery facility. Cats-Baril said any clinic-wide staff meetings would be held as retreats, off the premises.
Eventually, the clinic would have roughly 20 full-time employees and serve a maximum of 32 patients, but it would take a few years to scale up to capacity. Cats-Baril anticipates six to 10 patients at a time in the first year.
Review board member Tom Hand asked if the planned clinic was replicable, or if such a place already existed. Cats-Baril said he looked all over, “crisscrossing the country,” and didn’t find anything that matched his dream. So, he decided to just create his own.
“If this is successful — big if — the idea would be to franchise it out,” he told the board. “To see if it works here. It is the first one.”
For a review board meeting with more than a dozen people in the audience — in addition to Cats-Baril and his consulting and design team — there were scant comments. Some in the audience were from area social service organizations, such as North Central Recovery Center in Morristown and Lamoille Community House in Hyde Park.
Some of them shook their heads and chuckled when zoning director McShane read that Stowe’s definition of a “long-term” facility basically means 24 hours or more. They know that, for people in recovery, long-term is much longer.
Still, after the meeting, Dan Franklin, executive director of the Morristown recovery center, said he and others were there in case anyone put up resistance to Silver Pines.
Franklin said that while the Stowe clinic might attract a more wealthy and privileged clientele than the recovery center serves, just the idea that a Lamoille County town would accept a clinic for people needing help with substance use disorders is a step toward more widespread acceptance.
Other than what goes on inside, Cats-Baril doesn’t intend for Silver Pines to look much different from the North American Hockey Academy on the outside.
Neighboring property owner Ed Rovetto asked for some sort of screening between the two properties “so we don’t see each other,” and Cats-Baril said he has made the commitment to do so.
The review board placed some conditions on the property, including improving the driveway for better emergency vehicle access, in response to a request from Stowe Fire Chief Kyle Walker.
“Snow removal must be of utmost importance at this facility,” Walker wrote in a Nov. 5 email approving of the changes made at his request, noting he would talk with the clinic operator in the future to discuss fire safety plans.