Methadone center decision possible March 9

Residents oppose plan for facility on Main Street


March 02, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

As early as next week, a group of Westminster residents might see the end of their monthslong fight against a methadone treatment center that has been proposed for near the city's downtown area.

Residents near the planned location in the 200 block of E. Main St., near Washington Road, say the mixed commercial and residential neighborhood is not appropriate for a methadone program. Others have complained at recent public hearings that the center could bring problems such as more pedestrians and a parking shortage.

David Corbin, whose photography studio and home are across the street, said yesterday that the city "showed [the center's operators] plenty of places on Route 140 that they could go to if they want to be in the community.

"It's not saying you can't do it, but not in a residential neighborhood," Corbin said.

Beth Pepper, a Baltimore-based attorney for the center's applicants, said the zoning dispute is also a "question of civil rights."

People addicted to opiates, she said, should have "the right to have an opportunity to have their services provided in the same commercial district where everyone else receives their services from doctors ... and treatment providers."

A decision by the city's Board of Zoning Appeals could come March 9, when the three-member panel meets to deliberate on the case.

Methadone, a synthetic opiate, is given to heroin addicts to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Carroll County has one methadone clinic, in the Eldersburg area.

Co-applicants Brian Prichard and Neal Berch are fighting a zoning decision that prohibits them from opening the treatment center, to be called Westminster Institute. They operate three similar facilities in Charles, Frederick and Montgomery counties.

Westminster's Board of Zoning Appeals must decide how to categorize the center - as a professional office or as a medical clinic. The latter would not be allowed in Main Street's downtown business zone.

At a two-day hearing in January, Pepper contended that the definition of professional offices covers physicians and other health-related offices where such services are provided. Therefore, Pepper said, Westminster's zoning administrator was wrong in reversing an earlier decision, which would have allowed the center to open.

"The city of Westminster cannot rationally articulate the line between a professional office and a clinic, and offers no credible reason as to how [Westminster Institute's] services distinguish it from other counseling and treatment programs that exist undisturbed in the same zoning district," Pepper and attorney Michele Ostrander wrote in a Feb. 25 legal brief.

In October, Westminster zoning administrator Laurell Taylor said the center would be allowed on Main Street under the city's zoning ordinance. But Taylor later determined that medical and dental clinics are allowed only in an agricultural residential zone and in a neighborhood commercial zone.

A decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals can't come soon enough for Gene Brothers, president of Brothers Insurance Associates Inc., which is at the same address as the proposed center.

The outcome will determine what action, if any, Brothers might take, he said yesterday.

"Either relocating my office or not, basically," he said.

The board's deliberation, open to the public, is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. March 9 at Westminster City Hall.

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