Apr 22, 2016

Council issues Trout Run findings, nearly a year later

Danielle E. Gaines
Frederick News Post 
April 19, 2016

Trout Run
Five Frederick County Council members signed a seven-page document Tuesday afternoon to explain their 2015 decision that ultimately blocked the opening of a Church of Scientology-affiliated substance abuse treatment center on Catoctin Mountain.

The written findings are required as a result of a religious discrimination case filed in Frederick County Circuit Court by Social Betterment Properties International, which acts as the church's real estate arm.

In January, Judge William R. Nicklas Jr. ruled that he could not consider the claims of religious discrimination without having the written findings of facts and conclusions from the council. The council voted 6-1 in June against a historic designation that would have allowed a Narconon center to open on the property.

The resolution signed Tuesday is similar to the county's filings in the court case, which was closed after Nicklas remanded the issue to the council.

Tuesday's resolution outlines the history of the property since Social Betterment applied for a historic designation in 2013.

Social Betterment bought the 40-acre camp south of Thurmont that September. Its aim was to open a group home for drug and alcohol abuse treatment operated by Narconon, a program based on the writings and techniques of L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology's founder.

The Trout Run property is zoned for resource conservation, and a group home would not have been allowed. However, properties with historic designation may apply to the Board of Zoning Appeals for special-exception uses, and a group home has been among those allowed uses.

Social Betterment has alleged that the council's decision not to designate the site as historic was not based on its history, zoning and legal grounds. The council made its decision after receiving oral and written comments critical of the Church of Scientology. Social Betterment alleges that the decision was influenced by religious discrimination.

The council addressed that argument in Tuesday's resolution.

"As it has been advised by its Attorney, the Council did not consider any of the testimony or documents related to the 'Narconon' or 'Scientology' entities or programs, because it was not relevant to making a decision on whether the Applicant had established that the site met the selected criteria for placement on the County Register of Historic Places," Tuesday's resolution read.

Five council members — Democrats M.C. Keegan-Ayer, Jerry Donald and Jessica Fitzwater and Republicans Tony Chmelik and Bud Otis — voted to sign the resolution.

Councilman Billy Shreve, a Republican, voted against the resolution; he is the only council member who voted in favor of the historic designation in June.

Councilman Kirby Delauter, also a Republican, originally voted against the historic designation, but voted not to sign the resolution on Tuesday. Delauter said he considered the votes two discrete issues. "I just think the whole thing was dishonest," he said.

An attorney who represented Social Betterment in the original court case was not immediately available for comment Tuesday night.

Two other cases filed by Social Betterment are pending in Frederick County Circuit Court.

Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines​.


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