ESSEX - A local farmer known for his legal battle with the Adirondack Park Agency is urging Essex County officials and local residents to consider support for a new substance abuse treatment center.
Salim B. "Sandy" Lewis addressed the town of Essex board March 25, detailing discussions he's had with county officials and urging residents to support his plan for a new addiction treatment center.
Under the proposal, the center would be housed at the former County Home, a historic building that was once used to give the poorest county residents a place to live and farm.
Lewis said he met with County Manager Dan Palmer, County Attorney Dan Manning, Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas, Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, and County Clerk Joe Provoncha Feb. 3. Among the topics they discussed were transparency in government, road maintenance, and the possibility of establishing an addiction treatment center in the town of Essex for both adolescents and adults.
A former Wall Street investment banker, Lewis was instrumental in starting Daytop New Jersey, a nonprofit substance abuse treatment center in Mendham, N.J., in 1992. In 1998, he financed Daytop's purchase of the former County Home for use as a substance abuse treatment center.
But local opposition to the project led to a town moratorium blocking its establishment. The moratorium was eventually declared illegal, but Daytop decided to sell its property in Essex, nonetheless.
Lewis said he would not attempt bringing a treatment center to Essex again "if there's going to be an explosion of 'Not in my backyard.'"
"I have no interest in going through another fight," said Lewis, "and unless this community is pretty much unanimous on the subject, you can forget my offering the suggestion."
Since 2000, the property has remained in the hands of the Leaveners Community Foundation Inc., a Kansas-based nonprofit intending to renovate the former County Home as a respite center for humanitarian workers. Little work has progressed on the building however, and Lewis claimed its owners would be open to selling it.
Lewis would not comment on whether he would contribute financially to establishing a substance abuse treatment center, nor how much the project could cost. He noted how, in 1998, he estimated the cost to be upwards of $15 million.
Lewis said county officials have agreed to tour the Daytop facility in Mendham, N.J., to determine if a similar institution would be beneficial to Essex County.
"If we're going to have one and it's going to have my involvement, it's going to be here [in Essex] where I can take a heavy hand in making sure that it runs correctly; making sure that it's absolutely beautiful to look at and you can eat off the floor," said Lewis.
Lewis said his goal would be to renovate the County Home to house an administrative building for a new addiction treatment center, then add two adjoining properties where the private, nonprofit organization would construct residential homes for those undergoing treatment and an agricultural learning center where they would help care for young cattle as part of their therapy.
The two parcels, which Lewis refers to as the North Farm and the South Farm, are both owned by Dr. Robert Thall and, taken together, are assessed at more than $650,000. Lewis said he has not contacted Thall to determine if he would consider selling the properties.
"Those two areas are ideal for an agrarian-based, community-supported system which will take kids from this area... and get them so they're healed and put them back to work," Lewis told the Essex Town Board.
"This place would be the Mecca if it were done correctly," he added. "There's some very good people in this community that could make this facility work very, very well."