Tuesday June 19, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Angry about a proposed methadone clinic on Stoddard Avenue, a group of about 60 Morningside neighborhood residents rallied Monday afternoon in protest.

The crowd, which included about 20 children, gathered in the parking lot of the Dwyer Funeral Home on North Street, which abuts the Stoddard Ave. building where the clinic would go. Some held signs expressing their displeasure with the plan.

Some cited their opposition to a clinic in a mostly residential neighborhood, while others urged the community to resist the plan.

"I would fight it tooth-and-nail to keep it out of my [neighborhood]," said Ward 3 Councilor Paul Capitanio, whose son died due to complications from drugs nine years ago.

Ward 3 Councilor Paul Capitanio, who lost his son nine years ago to due to complications from drugs, speaks at a protest against a methadone clinic planned
Ward 3 Councilor Paul Capitanio, who lost his son nine years ago to due to complications from drugs, speaks at a protest against a methadone clinic planned for 15-17 Stoddard Ave. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Residents said they learned on Friday that Spectrum Health Systems Inc. of Wor cester would be establishing a methadone clinic in a former doctor's office on Stoddard Avenue.

Some were upset they hadn't learned anything beforehand from the mayor's office.

"Is there a new definition of transparency that we haven't heard about?" asked Debbie Dwyer, one of the rally's organizers.

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi says his hands have been tied because of a confidentiality agreement, signed during James M. Ruberto's administration, between the city and Spectrum as the two entities litigate.

Spectrum sued the city last year in federal court when the city denied the nonprofit a building permit for a metha done clinic in the Berkshire Nautilus building at 42 Summer St.


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Sprectrum claims that action violated the Amer ican with Disabilities Act and the Dover Amendment that exempt educational corporations from certain zoning restrictions. The nonprofit company describes itself as an "educational corporation."

Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, whose jurisdiction in cludes Stoddard Avenue, has said the Department of Public Health has determined a need for a methadone clinic in Pittsfield, and that the city is required to abide by it.

According to the city, Bianchi hasn't signed any agreements with Spectrum, and the federal court case is proceeding.

On Monday, the mayor's office released a time line regarding its knowledge of the situation with Spectrum since Bianchi took office in January. According to the time line, Bianchi was briefed on the Spectrum case shortly after he took office. In February, Bianchi wanted the situation with Spectrum to be the first topic of his new public television show, but according to the timeline, City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan advised him that the confidentiality agreement was in place and that it prevented him from speaking about the case.

"The confidentiality agreement was signed in December," Bianchi said. "I would have never agreed to a confidentiality agreement that would not let me inform the public."

According to Bianchi, Spectrum was "looking at a number of places up until a week and a half ago, and I didn't think that any of them would come through. They had found fault with everything. I wasn't convinced at all that any site would occur. To talk about this would have been meaningless, No. 1, but the confidentiality agreement, clearly as I read it to you, didn't allow it."

When asked if he could have given city officials knowledge of the situation ahead of time without going into specifics, Bianchi said, "I guess I could have. But once again, I think the confidentiality agreement was pretty explicit. I really, honestly, didn't believe that I was in a position to talk about it."

According to the time line, Degnan told Bianchi last week that the negotiations with Spectrum are "nearly complete" and that a settlement offer would soon be ready. Bianchi called Yon to his office and advised her of the "potential location in her ward."

Bianchi stated that he contacted Spectrum's attorney to see whether the company's officials will come to Pittsfield and meet with the City Council, neighbors and other interested individuals to describe their program, their safety protocols, and how they intend to be good neighbors. According to the mayor's office, Spectrum has refused to speak with city residents until the settlement agreement is signed.

Spectrum's President and CEO Charles Faris did not return a telephone call on Monday seeking comment.

The building on Stoddard Avenue is co-owned by Dr. Philip Adamo, the chairman of the Pittsfield Board of Health. The building contains two doctor's offices, and two apartments, according to the city assessor's office. Adamo also did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Organizers of Monday's rallies urged those in attendance to call or email the mayor's office to express their opposition. Several petitions have gone into circulation.

Diane Marcella, who heads the Tyler Street Business Group, said that organization would offer support.

Bob Skowron, who lives across the street from the proposed clinic site, said he was familiar with people who receive methadone for treatment due to his job at the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction, and wasn't opposed to treatment.

"The one problem I have with this whole thing is that it doesn't belong here," he said.

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224
On Twitter: @tonydobrow