CRC lawyer objects to Warren zoning board actionAttorney said blocking methadone clinic will mean tremendous cost for town
Warren — CRC Health Group attorney Walter McKee said after the Oct. 4 meeting of the Warren Zoning Board of Appeals that withdrawing plans for a methadone clinic in a building owned by Robert Emery on Short Street may make some neighbors happy, but it will come at a tremendous cost to the town.
McKee said CRC had only dropped its original plans to put the clinic in a former elementary school in the village known as the "brick school" as part of a proposed settlement of its lawsuit against the town. That tentative settlement has now fallen apart because CRC still does not have the permits it needs to open a clinic in Emery's building at the corner of Short Street and Route 1, even after a year of meetings with the planning board. The planning board finally awarded CRC approval for that site, but a group of neighbors appealed that decision to the zoning board.
Now CRC will look at all options as it continues to fight for the clinic in federal court, and all options includes the "brick school."
Asked how that could happen when the school building is not owned by businessman Emery, who has been working with CRC, McKee noted that when this process started Emery had a purchase-and-sale agreement to buy the brick school to house the clinic.
In the ongoing litigation, CRC will likely object to the actions the town has taken to prevent CRC from establishing the clinic in the brick school including the town's moratorium and development of its large facilities ordinance after CRC's application. That ordinance regulates large facilities including clinics, stating they cannot be located within 500 feet of homes and certain other businesses. That ordinance has been the basis of the appeal filed by neighbors against the planning board's approval of the clinic on Short Street.
McKee said CRC could be awarded damages for the efforts of the town to block the clinic as well as the right to establish the clinic.
"It's flat out illegal," he said of the town's actions.
The zoning board voted unanimously to continue the matter until Nov. 8, 7 p.m. at the town office.
The board's attorney Bill Kelly advised board members to simply continue the matter and let the planning board deal with the withdrawal of CRC's application. He said that was the right board to "make this go away," given that any other decision by the zoning board would leave the planning board's approval of the project as the last decision standing.
CRC withdrew its application for the project Oct. 1 and is going back to fighting the town in court. James Strong, attorney for the neighbors, has agreed to drop the appeal in the wake of this development, Kelly told the board Oct. 4.
One of the questions raised by members of the zoning board was whether the town even has a planning board to deal with this. Four members of the planning board have resigned after a year of deliberating on CRC's application.
Kelly said that if the town has to, it can appoint more members of the planning board, but Town Manager Grant Watmough said the board would likely have a quorum.
McKee said CRC objects to the continuance. "We are done with this permit and this process," he said.
He objected to having to go back to the planning board for permission to be done with it.
Kelly said if the planning board does deal with the issue, the zoning board process will simply "die a quiet death," and the board will not actually have to meet again on the issue.
He said this is very unusual, a novel case in the state of Maine.
In fall of 2010, Emery, through his company Vixen Land Holdings, had a purchase and sale agreement to buy the brick school at 44 School St. from the town and planned to serve as landlord to CRC there. In May 2011, the town told Emery the contract was null and void due to breach of contract. The town said Emery failed to secure a written commitment from a lender for the project, as stipulated in the sale agreement.
At a special town meeting Sept. 6, 2012, voters approved funding for demolition of the school. Selectmen have since put the demolition on hold.
The parties had previously negotiated a tentative settlement agreement under which CRC would abandon plans for the former elementary school and the town agreed to grant the needed permits.
CRC's federal lawsuit against the town over the blocking of the methadone clinic remains active. The town had previously agreed to settle the case with CRC for $320,000, but the point of contention was a memorandum of understanding signed at the time stating that the town would grant the company the needed permits.
News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.