The Frederick County Council delayed a vote Tuesday on whether to approve a historical designation for Trout Run, a Camp David stand-in on “The West Wing” that a Scientology-affiliated drug rehabilitation program wants to use as a treatment facility.
Narconon, a controversial program that relies on saunas and the writings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to treat heroin addicts and other drug abusers, needs the designation because the 40-acre property’s zoning doesn’t allow such uses. A listing on the county historical register would.
Narconon has waged a significant effort to convince officials that the property is historic. A consultant hired to research the property’s history wrote at length about the site’s rustic architecture and connection to past presidents, including Herbert Hoover, who once “reeled in a fine one-and-one-half pound trout.”
This was the second vote delay. County officials said the council has been flooded with feedback from residents in the past two weeks, and, earlier in the day, members received a lengthy presentation from the project’s attorneys and consultants.
Council Vice President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) moved to delay the vote until members could review the new materials as well as other records connected with the proposal. The council approved her motion 4 to 3. It’s not clear when the issue will come up again.
Earlier this month, at the first hearing on the project, opponents argued against the program and the idea that the property was historical. Bruce Dean, an attorney for the project, maintained that Narconon and Scientology weren’t the issues — the land was.
Tuesday’s hearing took a different turn, becoming at one point solely about Scientology and Narconon. But this time, it was the supporters who pushed the issue. Several former drug addicts testified about how they were saved by Narconon or Scientology.
“It literally saved my life,” Nathan Roberts, who said he was addicted to cocaine and other drugs before graduating from Narconon, told the board. “I lost my family. I lost my self-respect.”
Roberts traveled to the hearing from Battle Creek, Mich., and said in an interview after testifying that Narconon had asked him to do so. Another Narconon graduate traveled from Louisiana.
Later in the hearing, after Narconon’s representatives made a lengthy presentation about the property’s history, a county attorney told council members that Scientology was a “nonissue” for them, given federal laws protecting organized-belief groups.
Council member Kirby Delauter (R) indicated that he supported the historical designation, as did fellow Republican Billy Shreve.
“This is one of the easier decisions we’ll ever make,” Shreve said. “I don’t think it’s that difficult.”