A balancing act

August 10, 2006

Afederal court judge and jury handed Baltimore County a well-deserved rebuke this week when they found that a county zoning law discriminated against a methadone clinic in Pikesville and also violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The county, which is considering an appeal, would do better to simply change the law.

When the private, for-profit clinic, called A Helping Hand, opened in 2002, protests from nearby homeowners prompted passage of a law requiring many state-licensed medical facilities, including methadone treatment centers, to be located at least 750 feet from any residence. While fears of increased crime and loitering have not materialized to any significant extent, the discomfort felt by some close-in neighbors has not dissipated.

But discomfort, which often fuels the NIMBY - "not in my backyard" - syndrome, is not enough. The ADA prohibits the kind of arbitrary limits that the county tried to impose on where treatment centers can be placed. And Judge Catherine C. Blake and a jury did not buy the county's argument that the clinic and its clients had not been singled out for discriminatory treatment.

After prolonging this court fight, county officials should accept defeat and make adjustments to the law. The same lesson should also apply to Baltimore, which is considering legislation to get rid of its discriminatory zoning standard for treatment centers. And county officials in particular should be mindful of their broad duty to all residents and provide adequate substance abuse treatment without violating anti-discrimination laws.

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