Warren Planning Board approves methadone clinic

Board votes to make accommodations
By Juliette Laaka | Jun 06, 2012
The Warren planning board listens to speakers on Tuesday, June 5.

Warren — By a vote of 3-2, the Warren planning board approved the amended CRC Health Group plan for a Route 1 methadone clinic during its June 5 meeting.

Melody Sainio and Albert Overlock voted against the proposal.

Public participation was not allowed after last Thursday's heated meeting. Two deputies from the Knox County Sheriff's Office were in attendance to escort unruly citizens from the building if they did not comply.

Patrick Mellor, attorney for the town of Warren, said that under the Americans with Disabilities Act a board must consider requests for reasonable accommodation. CRC had requested safety concerns be resolved with construction of sidewalks and changing the hours of operation.

CRC attorney Walter McKee said failure to accept the reasonable accommodations request would be in violation of the ADA, citing similar cases that violated this law. If the request by CRC to alleviate safety and traffic concerns, by implementing the 500-foot setback of the facility and the construction of a sidewalk was rejected by the board, a court would find this decision unreasonable and in violation of the ADA, he argued.

Attorney James Strong, representing the nearby property owners, countered McKee saying the board had been uninformed about reasonable accommodation. Strong said, "there is no fundamental right for accommodation; the party must prove the need for accommodation."

According to Strong, CRC has not demonstrated that all persons requiring treatment by CRC cannot be fully accommodated by the Rockland clinic already licensed by local authorities. Secondly, CRC has not demonstrated that patients cannot be accommodated by another location that does not present the traffic hazards at its present location or within 500 feet of residences.

"The ADA was not enacted to protect the profitable enterprise that disposes methadone, it was enacted to protect the addicts who require methadone," he said. He went on say, it's not discrimination to enforce the ordinance.

Strong told the board that they decided what is and what isn't in compliance with the ordinance, and that the memorandum does not have the authority to tell the board how to interpret, apply or enforce the ordinance. "That is your sole province, your sole duty, and your responsibility to be unfettered by the threat of a lawsuit or any other form of intimidation."

At Last Thursday's meeting, the board voted no on the traffic accommodation. CRC  mitigated that issue with a request to install a sidewalk on Short Street in front of the proposed facility. On Tuesday, the board voted to accept the accommodation with a $75,000 bond for construction and a perpetual maintenance bond.

The traffic accommodation request to avoid unreasonable congestion at the site was also found to be compliant with the large facility ordinance and site plan review ordinance.

At last week's meeting, the board voted CRC did not meet the 500-foot setback in the ordinance and it had not proven there were no practical alternatives for a proposed site. Attorney McKee told the board if it did not allow the facility in the area because of the 500-foot setback, CRC would be unable to have the facility at the location, thus a violation of the ADA.The board decided to cede the setback. A proposed visual screen of the facility would include a dense evergreen hedge 6 feet in height and plantings would be maintained for coverage. The applicant will also meet annually with the board to discuss facility operations changes. The motion passed 3-2.

Hours of operation will be 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and holiday, and weekend hours were set at 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. The clinic will be open 7 days a week. Board member Melody Sainio wanted CRC to reduce traffic during school hours when students will be getting on and off the school bus. McKee said CRC would work with the town to spread out the traffic during those hours.

Attorney Strong said McKee was telling the board it was irrelevant and past hearings were irrelevant, because CRC believes it is entitled irrespective of what the zoning ordinance states. "You don't need a lot of law to know that's absurd," he said.

Chairman Krakoff said the planning board has done a lot to "make an unpleasant situation less than unpleasant" and added, "if anyone thinks sitting up here is fun, think again. I'm sure there are things we'd all much rather be doing this evening."

A resident in the audience spoke out, "then shut down and go home, if you don't want to be here." The citizen was not removed for the outburst.

CRC will now decide how to proceed after the board's June 5 decision. The deadline to finalize the settlement is June 8.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Marcia Peters | Jun 07, 2012 11:06

Is this the same meeting Chairman Krakoff brought law enforcement into to monitor the length of time a resident could speak?  Sad day when citizens cannot attend a meeting w/o the threat of reprisal and being escorted from the meeting. 

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