The Buffalo Common Council rejected the nonprofit agency’s special use permit in February, citing zoning issues and community concerns.
BUFFALO, NY – The need for more mental and behavioral health services in communities around the world has only intensified since the pandemic began.
In the fall, Horizon Health Services began exploring the idea of expanding its reach and outpatient services to Allentown at 600 Delaware Avenue. But in February, the nonprofit agency withdrew its plans for the new clinic after the Buffalo Common Council rejected its permit.
Anne Constantino is President and CEO of Horizon Health and says the growing demand for services is something they are still trying to meet and is disappointed the Board voted the way they did.
“It looked like a great opportunity,” Constantino says. “So it’s something that’s always in our plan to look for, you know, an accessible, good quality facility that would meet the needs of our patients.”
But things didn’t go as planned.
Constantino tells 2 On Your Side, “We got unanimous approval from the planning board. And when it went to Council for the vote on the special use permit. It was filed by the council member. Appeal if we would need a permit and that was refused. Then it was we withdrew our offer.”
That council member is Mitch Nowakowski, who represents the Fillmore District, where the building is located. Last month, the Council, including Nowakowski, voted against the permit 8-1.
“It was in no way a reaction to the mental health services that are plentiful in downtown Allentown,” Nowakowski said. “It was a question of whether this application was in line with the uses of this block, the location on how it is currently zoned triggered a Special Use Permit, which is subject to scrutiny and comment from the public.”
According to Constantino, the location offered many advantages, including parking, a major reason they were looking to move forward with the purchase.
“It’s just a professional, confidential space where people can walk in and out of their appointments as needed,” Constantino explains. “We have a good reputation which is stable, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want our business there.”
But according to Nowakowski, the growing concerns of his constituents also had something to do with his opposition.
“My job is to bring all parties together and listen to each other. If a compromise cannot be reached, I side with the residents. I was elected to represent the residents of Allentown, not to represent Horizon Health. My constituents had valid concerns and deserve to be listened to and understood.”
As for these concerns, some of them include zoning issues, relationships with other businesses, hours of operation, and parking.
Constantino says that in the future, their search for a new outpatient clinic will continue.
“We don’t need or want to be in a community that is unwelcoming or that will discriminate against the people we serve, and we certainly want it to be a safe and comfortable place for my staff as well.”