China planners set to hear proposal on camp for teens

by Mary Grow

The China Planning Board has scheduled an April 10 public hearing on a proposal to convert a former corporate retreat on Pond Hill Road to a leadership development camp for teenagers.

Pond Hill Road is between Route 3 and Three Mile Pond. The property has frontage on the pond as well as a tennis court, baseball field and half basketball court, owners Wesley and Susan Horton said.

The planing board’s initial review of the proposal, held March 27 with only three of the six board members present, drew nine neighbors with questions and concerns. Given the interest, board members willingly accepted several audience members’ recommendation they hold a public hearing.

The Hortons, who also run the Ironwood Maine facility, in Morrill, explained the Pond Hill Road camp is for young people, mostly between 16 and 18, who are recovering from problems like anxiety and depression, have been in treatment and are ready for a transition back to family life, college or another destination.

They plan to have no more than 10 residents at a time, with at least two staff people supervising at all times. The focus will be on life skills and character development – dealing with emotions, reconnecting with family members, finding purpose, establishing routines. Youngsters typically stay three months; the camp operates year-round.

Their clients do not have criminal records, and they are not ordered to the facility by a court or other agency. Referrals come mostly from parents, who are “part of the equation,” Wesley Horton said, and sometimes from school counselors.

“They’re good kids,” said Susan Horton, who is a psychotherapist specializing in adolescent development.

Wesley Horton added that the camp operates on a two-strike system: a second infraction of rules, like smoking, keeping an untidy room or arguing with staff about chores, means the youngster is out.

Neighbors had questions about traffic, interaction with neighborhood young people and the degree of supervision – the last raised by Anita Whittaker, considering the snow-sculpted penis she sees from her windows. The Hortons said the clients do not drive and are supervised at all times. The facility has a 10 p.m. curfew.

As the discussion drew to an end, neighbor Raymond Gosselin said the camp has been operating since the Hortons bought the property in October 2017, and asked why they are only now applying for a planning board permit.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said he was unaware of the Hortons’ use of the property until they asked him for an occupancy permit. He assumes they did not know they needed a change of use permit from the planning board.

The April 10 hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room.

See our related story: China public hearing planned on proposed teen camp



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