Mashpee Board Stands Aside As Lines Of New Seabury Veterans Center Debate Take Shape
By: Geoff Spillane
The first meeting of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen in 2012 featured what appears to be a recurring theme in town—controversy surrounding a proposed project in south Mashpee.
At Monday evening’s meeting, a group of New Seabury residents gathered to express opposition to the location of a proposed veterans health center at the former Doreen Grace Brain Center on Seanest Drive.
Late last month, the Enterprise reported that Richard C. Grace, son of the founders of the brain center, is in the process of donating the property to the Nam Vets of Cape Cod and the Islands Inc., a nonprofit veterans organization that has been operating an outreach center and transitional housing program in Hyannis since 1983.
Mr. Grace did not respond to an Enterprise interview request this week.
The proposed facility would provide traditional and alternative therapies for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a focus on treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
For much of 2011, the board and other town committees dealt with vehement resident opposition to a proposed shellfish grant in Popponesset Bay, a debate and issue that spilled over into the court system and remain unresolved.
Prior to the public comment session that kicked off Monday’s meeting, board Chairman Wayne E. Taylor stated to opponents and proponents of the veterans center that the board has no jurisdiction over the property exchange.
Following a 1964 granting of a special permit that provided its developers with significant flexibility in community planning projects, town zoning rules do not apply to New Seabury.
“This project has nothing to do with the town,” Mr. Taylor said.
Selectmen did not comment further on the debate.
Arguments From Homeowners
While not on the selectmen’s agenda, three men took to the microphone during the public comment portion of the meeting to express their views concerning the proposed facility.
Read K. McCaffrey, a member of the Peninsula Council, the New Seabury homeowners association, spoke on behalf of concerned residents.
Mr. McCaffrey is a trial lawyer who serves as a partner with the Washington, DC-based law firm of Patton Boggs. He has worked on several high profile cases, including the largest wrongful death mass disaster settlement in American history involving the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103, which included negotiations with the Libyan government.
Mr. McCaffrey said that many members of his family have served in the military—“Nobody has more respect for veterans than I do,” he said. But he said he was surprised that the community was not involved in planning this proposal from the start.
“There’s a certain attitude from the organization that suggests that ‘we are coming, and we don’t care.’ That does not play well in New Seabury,” Mr. McCaffrey said, noting that the current Nam Vets Association operation on Main Street in Hyannis is in an ideal location for such a facility, and that a similar, easily accessible location would work better than New Seabury.
Mr. McCaffrey cited deed technicalities, increased traffic, limited parking, and compliance with New Seabury’s stringent architectural codes as potential issues that could impact both parties.
Similar to an argument presented by Popponesset and Daniels Island residents regarding the shellfish grant, Mr. McCaffrey said that New Seabury is a very private community and that its residents are entitled to quiet enjoyment of their property.
Mr. McCaffrey said he has contacted the office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha M. Coakley, requesting that the transfer process be slowed until the community has secured more information about the center. The attorney general must approve the transfer of property from one nonprofit organization to another nonprofit organization.
In addition, the Peninsula Council has retained the services of a real estate attorney to examine the deed to determine if any restrictions exist for the use of the land or building, and whether New Seabury has the “right of first refusal” to purchase the property.
In a telephone interview from his Boston home earlier this week, Mr. McCaffrey reiterated his support of veterans outreach and wellness organizations, but questions whether the Nam Vets have “thought this through well enough,” in regard to cost of renovations, septic issues, and lack of parking in residential area.
“Opponents of this center are viewed as being anti-veteran, and nothing could be further from the truth. I would oppose a blueberry pie bakery in that building, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like blueberry pie,” Mr. McCaffrey said.
According to Mr. McCaffrey, the Peninsula Council will discuss the issue in-depth at a board meeting on Saturday, January 21.
A letter regarding the proposed center was also sent to New Seabury residents on Tuesday. Joseph Fisher, president of the Peninsula Council, did not return a call seeking comment.
Veterans Advocates State Case
Warning the audience in advance that he may become emotional, Merrill H. Blum, director of the Nam Vets of Cape Cod and the Islands, addressed the board, and said that the organization wants to be a good neighbor, and that it will work closely to address any concerns the Peninsula Council may have.
Mr. Blum said that traffic and parking are non-issues, as there would only be four to six staff members, and that traditional therapy sessions will be held on an appointment basis, and alternative therapies, such as yoga, would be maxed out at eight participants. Hours of operation would be Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM.
“There are 27,000 veterans on Cape Cod, many who have returned from service with mental illness. Last year we intervened on three suicide attempts, including one made by a 19-year-old. We want to prevent and manage potential psychotic episodes before the veterans take out the anger on their families,” Mr. Blum said.
Perhaps the most powerful statement of the evening came from Richard D. Carey, a veteran of the Vietnam War who said he has suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder for more than four decades.
The Start of the Controversy
Mr. Carey is the founder of the Cape and Islands Veterans Action Committee and serves on Congressman William R. Keating’s Veterans Advisory Board. He said that he considers contacting the attorney general’s office as a shot across the bow by the Peninsula Council, and that Congressman Keating has been briefed on the brewing controversy.
“The stigma of veterans’ emotional issues and mental disorders has caused society to keep the problem hidden away. If you are willing to send people away to war so you can live in exclusive communities and benefit from capitalism, then you should be willing to take care of them.” Mr. Carey said.
Treating post-traumatic stress disorder in returning veterans has become a concern throughout the country. On Wednesday, the first lady, Michelle L. Obama, announced the commitment of 100 medical schools to increase research and training for medical students in how to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries suffered by military personnel.
According to the defense department, nearly 213,000 military personnel have suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2000.
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