Federal judge hears arguments from CRC Health vs. Warren
Portland — The corporation proposing a methadone clinic in Warren took the town to federal court Sept. 17, in an effort to seek relief from alleged discriminatory practices and to recoup monetary damages.
Lawyers representing CRC Health Group Inc. and CRC Recovery Inc., Delaware Corporations, known collectively as CRC, argued with lawyers representing the town before Justice D. Brock Hornby in U.S. District Court.
Following 40 minutes of listening to oral arguments, Hornby said he would soon make his decision. No decisions were made at the hearing.
Walter McKee, lawyer for CRC, said he hoped a decision in his client's favor would allow the company to get back to the facts of the application where it was 13 months ago.
Sigmund Schutz of the Portland firm of Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios, representing the town, said a decision in his client's favor would wipe the slate clean of litigation and allow the process to go back to the beginning without the specter of a lawsuit.
In 2010, CRC, a nationwide provider of substance abuse treatment services, proposed a methadone clinic in the town. The corporation filed for a license by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services as an outpatient methadone treatment facility, subject to zoning approval by the town, according to the court complaint.
The town opposed the proposal and adopted a moratorium on methadone clinics. CRC then filed its federal lawsuit against the town, charging that the moratorium was discriminatory.
Meanwhile, CRC dropped its proposal for its first choice to house the facility at the former Warren Primary School and chose a building owned by Robert Emery on the corner of Short Street and Route 1.
The neighbors of the proposed site have formed in opposition to the project and are represented by lawyer James Strong.
Later that year, the developer applied to the town for the Route 1 location through a site plan review for Business and Professional Offices under the town's land use ordinance. The application cited the heading of a "place for business for doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, but not including financial institutions of personal services."
At that time, methadone clinics were not defined or excluded in the land use ordinance, said the complaint. CRC believed the proposed clinic was comparable to a medical office use, which was a permitted use in the zoning district, according to the complaint.
In December 2010, "in response to vocal community prejudice against people in recovery from opiate addiction," stated the complaint, there was a special town meeting to enact a moratorium on methadone clinics. The action passed and was retroactive to all pending applications.
Litigation followed, but CRC charged that the new "large facilities" ordinance violated ADA because of discrimination against patients.
CRC also contended that the new ordinance discriminated because of a clause that prohibits a large facility within 500 feet of a church, school, family day care home, small day care facility, day care center, library or public park or playground. There were no such restrictions on dental, veterinary or medical offices, CRC contended.
Schutz opened his argument Monday by pointing out that the proposed methadone clinic falls under land use law, He also argued that while the plaintiff claims the clinic is subject to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the ADA is not a "complete pass" for developers.
CRC's position has been that methadone clinics are land uses for people in active recovery from substance abuse. Patients are considered people with disabilities under the ADA, and therefore are a protected class, according to the complaint.
The town has tentatively settled the case with an offer to pay $320,000 to CRC, which said it is not interested until the project is approved once and for all.
"Once we make payment, the matter is settled," Schutz said.
Much of the discussion in court Monday focused on the action of the town's planning board, which approved the project in a 3-2 vote, and the subsequent appellate process by the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, brought about by the neighbors of the site.
Hornby asked repeatedly the position of the zoning board and was told it was part of the town. He said the role of the zoning board was not clear to him. The zoning board began meeting in August in response to the planning board's approval, met again in September and has scheduled another meeting for Oct. 4.
McKee argued that the large facilities ordinance came on the heels of a preliminary injunction.
He expressed frustration with delays, including a pending approval from the Warren Sanitary District.
"We can do nothing," McKee said. "We should be able to go back to the time before the large facilities ordinance was enacted."
Schutz rebutted that the zoning board has no authority to impose conditions on CRC.
"Since this project began, the public works director has resigned, the code officer has resigned, the town manager has resigned, four planning board members have resigned," Schutz said, citing the toll the case has taken on local officials.
McKee disagreed with Schutz's statement about the zoning board not being able to impose conditions on CRC and said it was subject to interpretation.
Courier Publications reporter George Chappell can be reached at 207-594-4401, ext. 117, or at email@example.com.