Methadone clinic stymied by zoning

by Mark Henle | 5/10/04 5:00am

The nearby town of Lebanon recently nixed approval of a local methadone clinic when it realized its blunder in issuing a "retail" permit to the drug treatment facility.

Officials had originally issued the permit to Habit Management -- a Boston-based company that owns 10 methadone clinics in Massachusetts and one in Manchester -- with the understanding that the clinic would be used as a "retail" space.

City officials didn't recognize their mistake until Wednesday, when they promised residents that they would review the situation. After consulting with the city attorney, city codes enforcement director Carmela Hennessy decided to nullify the previously-issued building permit on Thursday.

"The building permit was revoked given that they listed the use as 'retail' when they filed," administrative assistant Paul Maville said.

However, the prospective clinic, located at the Phone Mart building off Route 12A, is also zoned for "office" use, a label that a methadone clinic might well fall under. Habit Management has already corrected the stated use and requested that the two permits be reinstated.

"We have requested that the permit be reinstated ... the city zoning ordinance does not make distinctions between a dentist and a psycho-counselor. As long as they are doing office work, it's an office," said Habit Management attorney Barry Schuster. He said he expects the town to process the request "promptly."

But still, city officials expressed doubt as to whether a clinic that administers methadone would fit this zoning class.

Methadone is a synthetic narcotic drug that is less addictive than heroin and is used as a substitute in addiction treatment programs.

The building classification mistake was first made in December, when the structure's owner decided to renovate the space to fix a leaky roof.

The contractor for the initial restoration of the space listed the building's use as "retail." Later, when Habit Management applied to use the space, city officials copied the use from the old form, according to Schuster.

Yet, Habit Management amended the building permit request on April 6 to include its name, but left the stated use as "retail."

The company has run into similar problems when trying to establish clinics elsewhere in New Hampshire. A landlord declined to lease a piece of property in Newport, N.H. to the company amid public hostility last year. After being approved by a planning board in Chesterfield, N.H., the company was again rejected by a zoning board at the request of detractors.