Clinic business

New deal could bring methadone clinic to Middletown

MIDDLETOWN – Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission have agreed to a settlement – pending court approval – that would pave the way for the construction of a methadone clinic by the Root Center for Advanced Recovery.

In September 2020, the Manchester-based healthcare agency applied for a special zoning exception from a mixed-use area to a floating substance abuse/mental health area at 392 Washington St., a 7,140 square foot building occupied by Fine Tunes Auto Repair.

The commission supported Deputy Assistant Attorney Christopher Forte in sending the stipulation agreement to the state Superior Court in a 20-minute meeting on August 1, provided 12 conditions were met.

Members had approved the site plan and the use of the facility as a methadone clinic, but not the area change and the special exception, Forte said.

The reason, the attorney said, is that “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act supersedes zoning in some cases.

In exchange, the Root Center agreed to a dozen caveats, including the court agreeing to overturn its Nov. 21, 2021 ruling that struck down the city charter provision requiring five affirmative votes — or a super majority — on the issues.

If the judge agrees, “it will be as if this ruling never happened,” the attorney said, and the city charter would be reinstated to require five votes instead of the simple majority required by the law. state law.

The most notable stipulation, Forte said, is that the parties have agreed to work with the state’s Department of Transportation to determine changes to exits and entrances from nearby businesses, given that these are of a busy thoroughfare.

During three public hearings in the fall of 2020, the proposal received mixed reactions from some business owners who oppose its planned location, as well as support from those who see the need to fight back. opioid addictions, including St. Vincent DePaul Middletown.

Critics said the location, located between businesses and on a busy Route 66, was less than ideal.

The new methadone clinic would primarily provide maintenance treatment for people struggling with opioid addiction. The nonprofit agency primarily serves Medicare and Medicaid patients, CEO Steven Zuckerman said Wednesday.

The Root Center opened a location at 520 Saybrook Road in Middletown in September 2020, however, methadone treatment is not provided there.

That fall, the commission ultimately voted 4 to 3 to approve the request. However, there were not enough votes to meet the city’s requirement for a 5-2 super majority.

In November 2020, the agency appealed the decision to Superior Court, saying the 4-3 rejection was, in fact, an endorsement under state law.

In October 2020, Mayor Ben Florsheim said the decision was somewhat troubling. “I think we will watch this with embarrassment. It’s kind of a black eye for Middletown,” he said.

“At the same time, it’s always going to be somebody’s backyard, and if you don’t want to have a community where you see the fact that people are struggling with addiction, then the way to fix that is to allow people to access treatment,” he said at the time.

“It’s concentrated within our community, whether people like it or not,” Florsheim added.

The proposed stipulation takes into account the commission’s concerns about the health, safety and welfare of residents and allows the two to work with the state on traffic issues on a state highway, Forte told commissioners over early this month.

Middlesex County, the only area in Connecticut without a methadone facility, has been particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic, Zuckerman said Wednesday. Although New Haven County had the highest percentage of overdose deaths in 2019-20, Middlesex had the largest percentage increase, he added.

The Root Center serves about 125 Middlesex County patients, who now have to travel to other sites in the state six days a week to receive care, the CEO said.

When clients have to seek treatment this far from home, he added, they are more likely to drop out of the program and “end up overdosing and dying.”

The Middletown clinic will be modeled after the one in New Britain, which opened in January and took about a year to get up and running, the CEO said, a time frame that could be similar to Middletown.

Other locations are Bristol, Hartford, Manchester, New London, Norwich, Torrington and Willimantic.

The August 1 motion passed 6-0, with member Hillary Thompkins abstaining in the vote. Commissioners Thom Pattavina, Shanay Fulton, Richard Pelletier, Sebastian Giuliano, Kellin Atherton and Kelly Sweeney supported the measure.

During the talks, Thompkins spoke about public concerns, adding that she thought the location wasn’t ideal – reiterating some past complaints.