Methadone clinic fight goes to Warren zoning boardNeighbors speak out in three-hour hearing; lawsuit continues forward
Warren — In a three-hour hearing Aug. 16, the Warren Zoning Board of Appeals heard testimony from two lawyers and a large number of frustrated neighbors concerning the planning board's approval of a methadone clinic in a building owned by Robert Emery Jr. on Short Street.
Attorney James Strong filed the appeal in June arguing the planning board made a mistake June 5 in approving the application of CRC Recovery Inc. to open the methadone clinic. Strong is representing neighbors John "JB" Turner, Jennifer Turner, Marianne Pellicani, Wendy McKenzie, M. Justin Wiegleb, Terry Walsh and his wife also named Terry Walsh, Stephen Wood and Patricia Wood.
No decision was made at the meeting. Attorneys in the case will file written arguments for the board. The next meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Warren Community School.
Strong argued the proposed clinic does not follow the town ordinance, which prohibits large facilities within 500 feet of any existing dwelling. The proposed location is within that range of 17 homes. He also took aim at CRC's contention that, since drug addicts are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the clinic is entitled to accommodation.
"The large facilities ordinance, as written, does not discriminate against disabled persons," Strong said. "...In fact it was written with the assistance of the applicant's counsel to make it very easy for the applicant to locate within the town of Warren."
The ordinance creates a zone for such facilities of more than 12 miles on both sides of two major highways in town, he said.
Neighbors argued CRC has not proved it couldn't locate anywhere else to meet setback requirements from houses. They pointed out that the company has a tremendous amount of revenue, but it cited budget concerns as the reason for using Emery's building. A company with that much money could easily afford to buy property in the allowed zone, they argued.
CRC attorney Walt McKee said that just because he represents a corporation that is successful, it should not be treated any differently from any other applicant. He added the corporation should be treated as an individual.
Strong questioned whether the ordinance was lawfully enacted, arguing neighbors did not receive the required public notice of the zoning change complete with a map of the proposed zone.
McKee objected to arguments challenging the ordinance itself, saying he had been given no notice that issue would be raised.
Strong and the neighbors also raised concerns about the traffic that would be generated by the clinic on Short Street.
"One does not have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that the danger that would be added to an already dangerous intersection at Short Street and Route 1 invites tragedy," Strong said.
Over the course of the lengthy planning board hearings and now the zoning board hearing, neighbors have repeatedly argued clinic patients showing up during peak early morning hours will create a line of cars trying to get onto Route 1. That in turn, neighbors argue, could lead to trying to beat the traffic coming south on Route 1. The hill at that location creates diminished visibility.
On the issue of traffic, McKee argued the planning board had not only reviewed a traffic study from CRC-hired engineers, but had the study peer-reviewed by an independent engineering firm.
He argued that rather than asking for new investigations and studies and taking another year on this issue, the board should look at the planning board record. "Somewhere in that 1,000 pages there are answers to your questions," he said.
Zoning board Vice Chairman Robert Carter Jr. said he took exception to that statement and would ask for more information from CRC if he had questions that were not answered in the records.
Strong also argued that CRC should not have been granted conditional approval for the project before obtaining clearance from the Warren Sanitary District, concerning the disposal of sewage.
McKee said there was no love for CRC at the planning board meetings, but the planning board had approved the project. He argued all of these issues had been raised and CRC had met the requirements to gain approval.
Neighbor Terry Walsh countered, "There was no love for CRC, maybe, but there was a lot of fear."
The zoning board process is not the only one involved. CRC's federal lawsuit against the town over the blocking of the methadone clinic project is still active. The town has filed a motion in the case seeking to enforce the settlement agreement. The town had previously agreed to settle the case with CRC for $320,000, but the point of contention was a memorandum of agreement signed at the time stating the town would grant the company the needed permits.
The planning board approved the project, but it is now in appeal and the company is still seeking approval from the Warren Sanitary District.
Oral arguments on that motion will be heard Sept. 17 at U.S. District Court in Portland, according to McKee.
Who's who on the Warren Zoning Board
The zoning board members hearing this appeal are: Vice Chairman Robert Carter Jr., Carol Courtenay, Anthony Jameson (alternate), Matthew Patterson, Kenneth York and Shelly Nichols.
John "JB" Turner, who is one of the neighbors bringing the appeal, is listed on the town website as a member of the board, but has recused himself from serving on this case.
Robert Carter Jr. of Warren took over as vice chairman at the Aug. 16 meeting. He is running for the Maine House of Representatives District 49 seat in November.
At the beginning of the meeting, McKee asked Carter if any of the neighbors filing the appeal had contributed to his campaign. Carter said he has received a campaign contribution from Wendy McKenzie, who is one of the neighbors. Carter said the campaign contribution was completely separate from these proceedings. McKee said he had no objection to Carter serving on the board.
McKee also asked Matt Patterson a few questions concerning his participation in meetings on the CRC proposal. Patterson has participated in several meetings on the issue over the past year or more. He said he lives next to the former school where the methadone clinic was first proposed and shared his thoughts on the issue during public meetings. Patterson said he could make a fair judgment on the facts and McKee said he had no objection to these members of the board.
Jameson and Courtenay at one point served on the committee that wrote the large facilities ordinance, which was written in response to the proposal to establish a methadone clinic in town.
Attorney Bill Kelly of Belfast is representing the zoning board.
News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.