Proposed meth clinic in Dundalk protested

Residents say treatment needed but oppose site

November 25, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

As Baltimore County appeals a federal court ruling that prevents it from enforcing a zoning law designed to keep drug treatment centers from locating in neighborhoods, a new methadone clinic plans to open in Dundalk.

A private clinic operated by BD Health Care Services, based in Baltimore, plans to treat about 30 patients in a remodeled house on North Point Road near North Point Boulevard, said Wendy Kronmiller, director of the Office of Health Care Quality at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Although some residents are upset about the clinic, county officials said they have no plans to attempt to keep it from opening near the Wells-McComas neighborhood.

The county was sued in 2002 by the owner of a private Pikesville methadone clinic, who said a county law that forbids methadone clinics and other state-licensed medical facilities from opening within 750 feet of homes violates the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. In August, a federal judge and jury found that county officials discriminated against the patients of A Helping Hand in Pikesville when they enacted the zoning ordinance, finding that the local law violates the act. The county is appealing the judge's ruling and the jury verdict in the case.

The methadone clinic that is to open in Dundalk is within 750 feet of homes. But its location meets county zoning regulations, which permit such treatment centers in areas zoned for manufacturing, said Dr. Pierre Vigilance, the county's health officer.

Vigilance said the service is needed in eastern Baltimore County.

Because of the appeal of the Pikesville methadone case, "our hands are tied," said Baltimore County Councilman John A. Olszewski Sr. Vigilance, Olszewski and residents agree that drug treatment is needed in the area.

In addition to the Pikesville methadone clinic, there is a methadone treatment facility in an office park in Timonium.

Methadone, a synthetic narcotic, is used to treat addictions to heroin and some painkillers. It is administered daily by mouth.

The Dundalk clinic plans to open in a two-story house on North Point Road near houses and several businesses, and across from a bar.

Several community activists are opposed to the location.

"These facilities belong on a hospital campus, not in a community setting," said Carolyn Jones, president of the Greater Dundalk Alliance, an umbrella organization of neighborhood groups in the area.

Fred Thiess, president of the Wells-McComas Citizens Community Association, said his members agree.

"We're not against drug treatment. We know it's needed here, and everywhere." But, he said, the proposed clinic is next to a school bus stop, adding, "We don't believe there's adequate parking."

Attempts to reach Moshe Markowitz -- the owner of the Dundalk property and the listed director of BD Health Services, according to state records -- were unsuccessful.

The renovations at the proposed Dundalk clinic are not complete, making it difficult to estimate a date when the outpatient treatment center could open, said Kronmiller, whose state office gives permission for methadone clinics to open. The state has not yet granted a license for the facility to open, she said.

The owners have received a county permit for the interior renovations, said county spokeswoman Marjorie A. Hampson. The clinic must have enough off-street parking for its clients, she said.

Some other community groups worry that the Pikesville court case might prompt new methadone clinics to open in Baltimore County neighborhoods.

Alan P. Zuckerberg, a retired lawyer and one of the community activists who opposed the opening of the methadone clinic in Pikesville, said the Dundalk methadone clinic was likely just one of many that will open in Baltimore County.

"Communities aren't against drug rehabilitation," said Zuckerberg, who recently spoke to a group of Towson community associations about the implications of the federal rulings. "It's that they want to have a say in where they are placed, how many [are] placed, and that they're properly administered and policed."

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