Pikesville methadone clinic to move

Baltimore County law on buffer zones withstands 8-year court challenge

May 12, 2010|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

A methadone clinic operating in Pikesville since 2002 will have to move within a year after dropping its eight-year challenge to a Baltimore County law that sets a boundary between such treatment centers and residential neighborhoods.

A Helping Hand, which had been renting space at 116 Slade Ave., has until June 2011 to comply with county law setting the 750-foot buffer zone, and it will not pursue claims for lawyers' fees and court costs that one county official said reached about $2.5 million.

"I'm thrilled to death," said Melinda Hipsley, past president of the Ralston Community Association and owner of a beauty shop near the clinic. She said she has seen clinic patients relieving themselves in public, loitering and littering. "I know they have to be somewhere," Hipsley said, referring to drug treatment clinics. "But it was not something I wanted on the borders of my neighborhood."

The clinic had lost the most recent court decision, when a federal judge granted in March a county request to dismiss the case.

Joel Prell, president of A Helping Hand LLC, said the clinic will probably move to a new location about five miles from the Slade Avenue spot, but it has not signed a lease. He said the new location complies with the buffer zone.

Prell said he was disappointed with the U.S. District Court ruling in March that ultimately led to the decision to drop the case, but he said "it's going to be much better in the end. This thing had gone on for eight years."

He also said that nuisance complaints from Hipsley and others have been exaggerated and "nothing has ever been confirmed or verified by the police."

The clinic serves about 370 people in all, about 120 of whom might have appointments on any given day. The clinic operates six mornings a week, is open no more than six hours each day and three hours on Saturday.

County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat running for county executive, introduced the buffer zone law in the spring of 2002 after A Helping Hand and another methadone clinic had applied for permission to open within a half-mile of each other. The law restricting locations for drug and alcohol treatment centers was adopted by the County Council within hours after A Helping Hand opened.

"I am not opposed to drug treatment programs," said Kamenetz. "But they must be placed in areas where they don't impact the surrounding area."

The clinic sued, contending that the law violated its due-process rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case bounced between U.S. District Court — where a trial jury found in the clinic's favor in 2006 — and the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Prell said the decision to drop the case was made with the interests of the patients in mind, giving the facility more time to relocate.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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