Clinic facilities

Middletown relaunches opioid clinic amid court ruling overturning city charter provision

MIDDLETOWN — The door is open again for a proposed methadone treatment clinic in Middletown after the Planning and Zoning Commission voted Monday night to agree a settlement with the Root Center.

In 2020, the commission rejected a proposal by the Root Center for Advanced Recovery to build a methadone treatment center on Washington Street, citing traffic and safety issues with the proposed site in a residential area on the busy road.

The city charter required a five-vote supermajority to approve the proposal, so a zone change was rejected despite the commissioners voting 4-3 in favor of Root Center’s bid.

Root Center appealed that decision in court, and Middletown Superior Court Judge Rupal Shah ruled last November that Middletown’s charter requirement for a five-vote supermajority violated the law of the Middletown. ‘State. Middletown appealed Shah’s decision to the state Supreme Court to protect its charter and has since been negotiating a settlement with Root Center.

Middletown attorney Chris Forte, who represented the commission in the lawsuit, said the settlement would allow Root Center to move forward with its plans for the Washington Street methadone clinic, provided the court overturns Shah’s order reversing the supermajority requirement in its charter.

Instead of approving the rejected area change that would have allowed Root Center to seek a special exception to build the methadone clinic, the settlement would allow Root Center to build the clinic as a “reasonable accommodation” under the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act.

Forte said the ADA can replace local zoning in some cases, including this case, because it involves treatments for people who are addicted to opioids. While a zone change and special exception would stay with the property, reasonable accommodation is only granted at the Root Center, Forte said.

That means if Root Center sold the business and someone else wanted to continue running a methadone clinic, they would have to apply to the commission for both a change of area and a special exception, Forte said.

The commission voted in favor of the settlement, which has yet to be approved by the court.

Commissioner Catherine Johnson, who was one of the first to vote against the zoning change, abstained in the vote, saying she was conflicted because she wanted to address the concerns of Middletown residents who opposed to the proposal in 2020.

Johnson recalled concerns raised at a public hearing by residents worried about increased traffic and the risk of accidents on an already treacherous stretch of Washington Street, and the potential for ‘wandering’ and attracting traffickers drugs that could target people being treated for addiction.

“Most community members didn’t seem to be against the methadone center,” Johnson said. “They felt it was important, however, that the proposed destination was inappropriate.”

Forte said one of the conditions of the settlement is that Root Center and Middletown would work with the Connecticut DOT to find a safer way to access Root Center and nearby businesses on Washington Street, which is a state highway.

Commissioner Seb Giuliano, who was not on the commission when it originally heard the proposal, said he thought residents’ concerns about the proposed location were “universal, regardless of the proposed site”.

Giuliano said he believes the settlement addresses those concerns in the terms of the settlement, and the settlement allows Root Center to move forward in a way that is “least intrusive” to city zoning regulations. resolves ongoing litigation and keeps intact the charter provision that has governed Middletown land use since the 1970s.

Commissioner Kellin Atherton, who was one of the first to vote in favor of the zoning change, said there are people living in Middletown and surrounding communities who suffer from addiction who could benefit from the treatment center .

Root Center already operates clinics in comparable towns in Connecticut, including Manchester and New Britain, and those towns had “nothing negative to report” about their clinics, he said.

“The disease of addiction, especially with opioids, is more complicated — for socioeconomic reasons, for racial reasons — than people tend to lack with other forms of addiction,” Atherton said before. to vote in favor of the settlement. “I think this facility will be a benefit to the community and a benefit to people with addictions.”