Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer Rich Madaleno and David Dise, director of the Department of General Services, delivered some welcome news to more than 40 people gathered Thursday night for a town hall meeting in the County Council office chambers in Rockville.
“There is no plan, [County Executive Marc Elrich] has no intention to build a bus depot at the Seven Locks site,” Madaleno told the group.
The news received a round of applause. The rest of the night, however, was more contentious.
Madaleno was referring to a plan envisioned by the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, police department, fire and rescue personnel and senior officials to build a bus depot, restoration center and a new county detention center on county-owned land off Seven Locks Road and Wootton Parkway.
County officials said the plan for the bus depot — which would have provided parking for as many as 250 buses (most of them school buses) and a maintenance facility — was scrapped. That was welcome news to many of the audience members, including several members of the Seven Locks Alliance — a group of neighbors against the depot and restoration center.
But they were not happy about the plan to move forward with the restoration center — a facility that county officials said would serve as a valuable resource for those undergoing mental health struggles and would help divert people from the nearby detention center into treatment.
Madaleno and Dise, along with several other senior county officials, made the case that such a facility would help free up resources in many sections of county government, and help address the ongoing challenges of people undergoing mental health problems. Those officials included: Police Chief Marcus Jones; Fire Chief Scott Goldstein; Raymond Crowel, director of the Department of Health and Human Services; Ronaldo Santiago, chief of Behavioral Health and Crisis Services within HHS; and Angela Talley, director of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation.
Madaleno said the Seven Locks property is the county’s preferred site for the restoration center.
“Is there an optimal solution at another site? We will always continue to look for that, but at some point, there may not be,” Madaleno said.
The county’s case for a restoration center at the 7 Locks site
For roughly two hours, county officials argued that a restoration center could serve as a model for others throughout the state and country and how to handle those undergoing a behavioral health crisis.
There were also practical benefits to having a restoration center, they said. Jones and Goldstein told attendees that police officers and other first responders spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours each year tending to people with mental health problems.
Having the ability to deliver such people to a restoration center would allow first responders to spend more time on patrol and servicing calls, the chiefs said.
County officials also asked two residents who have been addicted to drugs — Amy Bormel and Jeffrey Searcy — to share their experiences with mental health treatment.
Bormel said she grew up in a supportive family and was successful in school before she eventually became addicted to drugs, and ended up in and out of treatment facilities, hospitals and jails by age 19.
“If there was a place I could have gone in that moment of crisis to stabilize and take the time to come up with a plan, I truly believe that the pain that I caused myself, my family and my community would have been prevented,” Bormel said. “There’s a huge gap in services in our county, and I believe a restoration center is the very thing we need.”
Crowel and Santiago said locating the restoration center near the detention center’s central processing unit would allow residents who need help to be diverted to needed medical treatment instead of jail.
Plans for the restoration center call for 20 general patient beds, 20 sobering stations — which would include recliners to help people stabilize from whatever mental or medical condition they’re experiencing — and five additional recliners in an assessment area.
Broadly speaking, Santiago said the restoration center would assist people for 24 to 72 hours, and then medical personnel would decide whether long-term treatment is needed or the person could be discharged. Jones and Goldstein said their departments would assist in dropping off prospective patients at the central processing center, where they then could be sent to the restoration center.
County officials said the county would cover the cost of transportation once the patients are discharged from the restoration center.
Santiago said in an interview that it’s difficult for residents in the neighborhood to hear that a restoration center is being proposed. But the location near a central processing center will divert people from jail into treatment who need it.
He gave the example of a man being visibly intoxicated in an urban part of the county and a police officer picking him up for indecent exposure.
“They bring him to the [central processing center] and then does the officer decide to charge him because of indecent exposure, which is the nuisance [crime] kind of examples … or does that person go into that detox unit that I talked about?” Santiago said. “It’s pretty obvious. And that’s the kind of diversion that we’re talking about.”
Many residents asked officials with questions about security, considering the proposed detention center and restoration center complex would be about 100 yards from some homes. Officials said the county would have 24-hour security for the restoration center, but that logistics were still being worked out.
In an interview, Talley emphasized the jail and the restoration center would be two separate facilities. She said the plan reflects the fact that the Rockville jail has seen a decline in inmate population, since another jail that can hold up to 1,000 inmates opened in Clarksburg in 2003.
The Rockville jail can hold up to 200, but only averages about 50 inmates per day, Talley said.
“There will be separate security measures to make sure that — like we do now — that anyone in the public comes up to the jail [that] there are safeguards where you can only reach certain points of a facility … and so all of that will come in the design and planning phase [of the jail and restoration center],” Talley said.
7 Locks Alliance, nearby residents voice strong opposition
Most of those who attended the town hall were against the idea of a restoration center at the Seven Locks site and officials with questions about why the location was chosen, if other sites in more commercial or industrial locations had been considered, and if they considered the potential safety risks to the adjacent neighborhoods.
Rockville City Council Member Beryl Feinberg, like many others, said that a restoration center located next to the jail could deter prospective patients from wanting to get treatment. She and Rockville residents believed there were ample opportunities to locate the facility in vacant office or industrial spaces elsewhere in the city.
Mariana Cordier, president of the nearby Falls Ridge Homeowners Association, told county officials she was concerned that State’s Attorney John McCarthy was not in attendance. Cordier, a criminal defense attorney, said that she didn’t think the detention center and restoration center as proposed would not be effective in serving people who need help.
“We are not against a restoration center,” Cordier said in an interview. “As a criminal defense attorney, I have advocated for these folks. It is necessary. But to set it up to fail because residents are concerned of calling the police — and the police don’t have a 100% record of good response, things happen.”
It would be better to locate the restoration center near a hospital and near more public transportation, she said.
“I am proud of every client that has recovered, and has been able to turn their life around and move on,” Cordier said. “But that road was a hard one, not everyone can do it, and you can’t assume that everyone who walks off [the restoration center site] is cured. They still need help, but they have a constitutional right to say no, and that’s the struggle.”
Sara Devine, a member of the Seven Locks Alliance, said in an interview that some view the alliance’s opposition as a form of NIMBYism.
But Feinberg told the town hall gathering that just because residents are asking important questions doesn’t mean they should be labeled so quickly. And Devine noted that some families have lived in the area so long that they remember when the county-owned land — where a former police station and current county maintenance facility now sit — used to be something completely different.
It was the Poor Farm— a site to help those with medical conditions, along with a cemetery, Devine said.
“What I resent about the NIMBYism [argument] is we lived in Seven Locks long before a neighborhood was there,” Devine said.
Santiago said in an interview that he would continue to meet with the Seven Locks Alliance’s steering committee to provide updates on the restoration center proposal.
And Madaleno said that county officials plan to speak with residents roughly every three months as the project continues to develop. County officials said that of the projected $18.7 million cost for the restoration center, roughly 90% would be covered by state funding.
No decisions have been finalized yet, although it was apparent that county officials were lobbying hard to keep the restoration center at the 7 Locks location.
During an evening that was at times tense between residents and county officials, David Myles — a pediatrician and Rockville City Council member — offered his opinion on the proposal.
Myles said that as a pediatrician, he’s worked in emergency rooms where intoxicated people who had “no business” in an emergency department distracted medical personnel from vital work. But he understood residents’ concerns about ensuring safety in nearby communities.
“I have mixed feelings on this,” Myles said. “I’ve taken care of patients, but I’ve also lived in the neighborhood. There were two [incidents] in my neighborhood where situations have occurred. A person from the jail broke into one of my neighbor’s cars. I bike past the detention center three times a week … . I do know that we need this facility. It has to go somewhere … but if this does come, I think my biggest concern is safety. I want to make sure, selfishly, that my daughter can get home safely. I want to make sure you all are safe.”