Measure would make opening drug centers easier

October 17, 2006|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore City Council voted last night to give preliminary approval to a zoning law change that would make it easier to open drug treatment centers in the city, even in residential neighborhoods.

The measure supported by Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration seeks to broaden the definition of health care clinics to include the centers and to remove the requirement for council ordinances to open them.

The 15-member council's action last night advances the ordinance to the Oct. 30 meeting, where it is expected to be up for a final vote. If approved, as expected, the ordinance would permit outpatient drug treatment centers - such as methadone clinics - to open in areas zoned for various industrial and business uses, Councilman Edward L. Reisinger said.

Opening them in residential areas would require only the conditional permission of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals.

The zoning change was proposed by the administration, in part, to head off a legal challenge to existing city rules. A federal jury ruled in August that Baltimore County officials discriminated against the patients of a Pikesville methadone clinic when they enacted a zoning law prohibiting state-licensed medical facilities from locating within 750 feet of homes. The county's law also violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"The purpose of this legislation is to comply with federal law," Reisinger said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke was the lone "no" vote. She said the law would not be discriminatory if it included a prohibition against locating all health care clinics - from dentists' and doctors' offices to drug treatment centers - from being conditional uses in residential areas.

"I think we should be fair to substance abuse centers but not at the expense of residential areas," Clarke said. "We still have the possibility of these coming into neighborhoods."

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