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Clinic issue back before Laconia Planning Board – Fosters

Clinic issue back before Laconia Planning Board – Fosters.

Clinic issue back before Laconia Planning Board

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By JOHN KOZIOL
jkoziol@citizen.com
Monday, April 6, 2009

Methadone, a powerful painkiller and also a means of weaning people off from opioid addiction, will be a major topic of discussion at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting.

The board, which meets at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall Room 200A, is scheduled to act on two related items: an administrative appeal from the company that proposes to operate an outpatient methadone clinic in the O’Shea Industrial Park and a change to add “Drug Treatment Facility” to the list of permitted uses in the city’s Zoning Ordinance.

Both items are the direct result of a proposal last year by Colonial Management Group (CMG), the parent company of Metro Treatment of New Hampshire, to open a methadone clinic at 72 Primrose Drive, in a portion of the former Tangent Tool building.

Because the amount of space that the clinic would occupy was below the city’s regulatory threshold for a full review by the planning board, City Planner Shanna Saunders had the sole authority to act on the request and after several months of consideration, she approved CMG’s application for a change of use but with conditions.

The condition that CMG objected to, and the one that resulted in the appeal that the planning board will consider, would have the company pay to have a police officer and cruiser on scene during all hours of the clinic’s operation.

CMG has proposed operating from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. At the current rate the city charges for a police detail, it could cost CMG more than $100,000 per year to hire the officer and car.

The company said it would hire a security guard, but Laconia Police Chief Mike Moyer has opposed that idea saying a security guard does not have the same law-enforcement abilities as a police officer.

Should a problem arise at the clinic that required someone to be taken into custody, a security guard would have to call the police anyway, said Moyer.

The chief was among a number of residents and the entire City Council who opposed the CMG proposal. CMG officials said Laconia was chosen as a site for the clinic because there was a need for its services here as some 100 residents currently travel to the company’s Concord clinic for treatment.

Orlando, Fla.-based CMG has 54 substance abuse treatment centers nationwide and as Metro Treatment of New Hampshire, it also operates facilities in Keene and Manchester in addition to Concord.

Moyer, who fears people receiving methadone treatment may become impaired by their treatments and be unable to drive safely, prevailed upon Saunders to include the provision requiring the police officer and cruiser as a condition of CMG’s approval.

Meanwhile, on a separate tack, the City Council directed the planning board to look at amending Laconia’s zoning regulations so the city didn’t again find itself in the same position it did when CMG came forward with the methadone clinic.

Because the regulations are silent on what constitutes a “drug treatment facility,” Saunders, in deciding the CMG request for the methadone clinic, had to rely upon the closest similar use, a medical clinic.

The council acknowledged that, legally, Saunders had no choice but to grant CMG’s application.

The company’s unhappiness with the conditions of the approval, however, led to an appeal by CMG to the full planning board which entailed a preliminary review of the approval by the city’s Technical Review Committee.

Made up of representatives of the planning, police, fire, water, zoning and assessing departments, each TRC member presents his or her own recommendation to the planning board. In the case of the CMG application, only the police department had concerns and they were the same ones previously raised by Moyer.

Between Saunders’ approval and the March 18 TRC meeting, the City Council told the Planning Board that it wanted the zoning regulations to have a “trigger” that would result in a more intense review for projects that may have an impact on public health or safety.

Additionally, the council has asked Gov. John Lynch to have the Department of Health and Human Services examine whether state oversight laws are responsive enough to local concerns.

YES…please lets review the impact on public health and safety…because it will be overwhelmingly positive!

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