Thursday, July 17, 2008

Neighborhood rallies against methadone clinic

SEABROOK — Residents of the Pineo Farms subdivision came with their neighbors, spouses and even toddlers to tell the Planning Board how much they didn't want the proposed methadone clinic on Stard Road within 1,000 feet of their homes.

The use may be allowed in the industrial zone where the clinic is planned at 18 Stard Road, they said, but the families who have settled into the houses built on the former Pineo Farm fear their lives will never be the same if the clinic opens. They fear drug-addicted patients using the methadone clinic will endanger the lives of their children, bring crime and more traffic to the area off Route 107 and Interstate 95, and lower their property values, they said.

"I worry for the safety of my daughter," said Pineo Farms resident Tim Reeves at a hearing Tuesday night, holding his toddler in his arms. "If anything happened to my daughter, it would break my heart. I can't see how the risks (to her safety) wouldn't increase if something like this (clinic) is allowed into this place. Here, look at my daughter."

Assurances from Colonial Management Group, the company proposing the clinic, that such fears have not become reality in communities where their clinics are did nothing to assuage residents.

According to Colonial's development director, Joseph Sullivan, Seabrook was chosen for the location of this clinic because of the town's already high drug-related crime statistics, as well as its "well-known drug problem" and shortage of drug treatment facilities.

Although Julio Carrillo doesn't live in Pineo Farms, as a person formerly addicted to drugs, he told the Planning Board substituting methadone for heroin is no way to end someone's drug dependency. Addicts should go through a painful withdrawal, he said, so they remember not to fall into addiction again.

Carrillo, whose comments hushed the crowd, was praised and thanked for his courage in coming forward by Planning Board Chairwoman Susan Foote. The issue of whether methadone is or isn't effective in treating drug addiction, however, isn't one the Planning Board has any authority to address. The Planning Board handles land-use concerns, Foote repeatedly told Carrillo and others in the audience.

When Foote asked abutters to present evidence for their fearful speculations, they had no statistics to offer, but residents insisted their angst was real.

Pineo Farms resident James Prentice said his friend is being treated with methadone for drug addiction. Some do well on the program, but others abuse the program and get cut off from the methadone that quells their drug craving. They then become desperate for the money to buy illegal drugs like heroin and resort to stealing from those near the clinic, Prentice said.

"This clinic is going to place an extra burden on the Police Department and the taxpayers," Prentice said. "We're concerned about our welfare and our well-being and hope (the board) will consider our feelings. This is a neighborhood. It may be industrial, but it's a mixed bag (of businesses and homes)."

The expectation Colonial Management Group and King Weinstein, the owner of the land, would sue the town if turned down didn't worry Prentice.

"Go ahead and let them sue and let's see what happens," Prentice said.

Selectman and Planning Board member Bob Moore said he understands the neighbors' concerns. No one buys a house near an industrial zone and expects a methadone clinic to move in, Moore said. But, given the clinic would be in a multioffice professional building — a use allowed in the industrial zone, according to Seabrook's zoning rules — keeping the methadone clinic out because of neighbors' undocumented fears is most likely beyond the authority of the Planning Board or any other official, Moore said.

Before continuing the hearing to Aug. 5 for more research, Foote tried several times to explain the Planning Board's authority and limitations on the issue. As long as Weinstein builds his 9,000-square-foot office building to the specifications required by regulations for parking, traffic, lighting, utilities and storm water management, the board has little power to refuse approval. Weinstein can then lease 4,500 square feet to the clinic, Foote said, or any other medical professional or business as long as it's a legal enterprise with the appropriate licenses.

Former Selectman and current Planning Board member Bette Thibodeau said this isn't the first time Seabrook residents feared a new business in town.

"We've had this problem when the (Greyhound) racetrack wanted to come in, and we had it when the (nuclear) power plant wanted to come in," Thibodeau told the neighbors. "These things happen. You can't always say 'no' just because you don't like something."