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City rescinds zoning approval for opioid treatment facility

September 14, 2018

New London — Citing city zoning regulations that bar substance abuse rehabilitation facilities in residential areas, the city’s planning department has rescinded its approval for a group planning opioid addiction counseling offices on Montauk Avenue.

Madison-based Center for Compassionate Recovery had planned to open its doors at 419 Montauk Ave., welcoming in clients for assessments, therapy and individual and group counseling on a variety of issues – including opioid addiction.

It had already signed a lease with the owner and obtained a zoning permit on Aug. 31 for a “counseling office.”

On Sept. 7, New London Zoning Official Michelle Johnson Scovish informed the group that information provided in the its application “did not openly and clearly detail your actual intent and plan of the day-to-day operations.”

While the Center for Compassionate Recovery’s application outlines hours of operations, along with numbers of patients and councilors, there is no mention of addiction treatment. Scovish cited a Sept. 2 news article in The Day in which Dr. Marc Bono, a clinical director of the center, mentions the addiction treatment to be performed at the location.

The Montauk Avenue office is in a residential zone but at some time in the past acquired a special permit to operate a “professional office,” on the first floor. The permitted use is grandfathered for new occupants as a “preexisting legally non-conforming condition,” of the property.

Allowed uses include a doctor’s office, an accountant’s office or attorney’s office, for example. The building previously housed a doctor’s office with a residential unit in an upper floor and more recently was used as a satellite office for the North American Family Institute’s Child, Youth and Family Support Centers program serving delinquent youth.

Zoning regulations limit “private, public or quasi-public rehabilitation facilities,” to the commercial, or C-1 zone, with approval of a special permit, said Felix Reyes, director of the Office of Planning and Development.

“It’s important from our perspective that we make decisions based on businesses, non-profits and other organizations being up front and giving us all of the information,” Reyes said. “This application was extremely vague and did not go into details about the use.”

The zoning permit was initially issued based on what now turns out to be incomplete information, Reyes said. He said the proximity to Harbor Elementary School and some concerns raised by people in the community was not a factor in the decision to rescind the approval.

A permit would not have been approved if addiction treatment was mentioned in the application, he said.

Center for Compassionate Recovery Practice Manager Pamela Ryder called it “naivete,” in seeking to open at the Montauk Avenue location. She met with Reyes and members of the planning department on Friday.

“None of us knew about this one particular regulation,” she said. “We do consider ourselves a counseling office. Substance abuse counseling is part of that.”

Ryder called it a productive meeting with city staff and said the center would continue to find a suitable location in New London where there is a need. They also planned to be clearly transparent with future neighbors.

Ryder said there seems to be a misperception of what the organization does. She said they are not a long-term maintenance facility.

“People come in for counseling and go home,” she said. “There is no loitering. No inpatient treatment. No detoxification.”

Reyes said it was typical for new businesses and developers to come to the planning department for workshops that at times help clear unforeseen hurdles.

“This is not an issue of the city not wanting them in New London. This is a zoning issue that needs to be cleared up,” Reyes said.

g.smith@theday.com

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