Bill would block drug clinics near residences

Methadone center supporter says county plan is discriminatory

April 02, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Responding to two applications for methadone clinics within a half-mile of each other in Pikesville, Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz proposed new zoning regulations last night to keep the facilities away from residential neighborhoods.

The county has tried to regulate the location of methadone clinics before, but its ordinance was struck down by a federal court ruling that the regulation constituted discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Methadone is a legal narcotic used to help heroin addicts overcome withdrawal symptoms. Residents who live near the proposed clinics have voiced strong objections to them, saying they don't belong near homes.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section about proposed zoning regulations for methadone clinics in Baltimore County gave the wrong timetable for approval of two clinics in Pikesville. Of the two, Helping Hand is further in the state licensing process and could get approval in as little as two weeks.
The Sun regrets the error.

To make his bill pass legal muster, Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, broadened the proposed regulations to include all state-licensed drug and alcohol treatment centers and a variety of other freestanding medical facilities, including centers for dialysis, outpatient surgical procedures, endoscopy and birthing.

These types of centers are different from other medical offices because they operate at unusual hours, in some cases early in the morning, and can generate large amounts of traffic, Kamenetz said.

The regulation would permit them as a matter of right in manufacturing zones and as an exception within office and commercial zones, provided they are at least 750 feet from residential property and have adequate parking.

"We're not just picking on methadone clinics here. We're picking on types of operations that impact nearby residential communities," Kamenetz said. "That's the issue here."

To claim this bill has anything to do with parking or traffic concerns is "a joke," said Chip Silverman, a consultant for START (Success Through Acceptable Rehabilitation Treatment), one of the applicants for a methadone treatment clinic in Pikesville and a former director of the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.

Silverman said he thinks this bill, too, is discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He notified the attorneys who litigated the case over the county's original methadone zoning law before Kamenetz filed his bill.

"You have rhetoric from people saying they need more money for addiction treatment and more addiction treatment facilities, but don't put it in my back yard," Silverman said.

Joel Prell, operator of Helping Hand, the other clinic seeking a license, did not return a telephone message yesterday.

Kamenetz's bill deals with two kinds of facilities licensed by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene under two different sections of the state code.

The centers for dialysis, outpatient surgery and endoscopy are grouped together in the law as "ambulatory care facilities." The county has 72 of them, according to the state health department.

Kamenetz said he didn't know of any specific community objections or problems with them.

"But I'm not aware of any that are located within 30 feet ... of a residential community," he said.

The second group are the alcohol and drug treatment and detoxification centers. The county has only two methadone clinics, and both clinics operate under the auspices of the county Health Department out of the same location in Lutherville, said William H. Dorrill, deputy director of the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality.

Dorrill said he thinks that if the county is uniform in the bill's application, it would probably stand up under federal law.

If the bill passes with at least five votes, it could go into effect as early as April 16. At last night's meeting, five other councilmen had agreed to co-sponsor the measure. Dorrill said START, which is further in the process of licensure, is at least two weeks from approval.

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