Pittsfield aims to limit drug clinics

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Wednesday November 30, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Already engaged in a lawsuit over a proposed methadone clinic, the city is working to establish a ban on any additional such facilities downtown.

Ward 6 Councilor John M. Krol Jr. has asked the City Council to approve a zoning change that would prevent future methadone clinics and similar Suboxone clinics from the downtown business and arts district. Krol's proposal would also require a special permit for establishing such facilities elsewhere in the city.

On Tuesday night, the council referred the matter to the city's Community Development Board for a public hearing and a recommendation back to the entire 11-member panel. The council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules also is expected to review and make its own

Since Krol anticipates the entire process will take several weeks, the newly elected council being sworn in Jan. 2 will be making the final vote on the proposal.

If approved, the zoning change wouldn't prevent Spectrum Health Systems Inc. from trying to set up a methadone clinic in the Berkshire Nautilus building at 42 Summer St. In addition, a clinic called Experience Wellness that distributes the methadone-like pharmaceutical Suboxone would be allowed to remain at its North Street location.

"[The zoning change] will have no impact on the pending application of Spectrum Health Systems, since it would be enacted following its initial permitting," Krol said.

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Krol's petition was prompted by Spectrum's filing of a lawsuit against the city in June, claiming the city violated federal law in denying them a building permit in April. Since Spectrum helps drug users overcome their addictions, the company said it was exempt from certain zoning restrictions under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Boston denied Spectrum's request they be allowed to set up the clinic while the lawsuit was pending. The case is expected to continue in January before U.S. District Court Judge James A. O'Toole Jr.

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The prospects of a methadone clinic downtown has sparked controversy in Pittsfield. City officials worry the facility will undo all the work done to revitalize the North Street area into a retail and cultural destination.

"From theaters, restaurants and wine bars, we and the private sector have worked hard on investing millions into our downtown," Krol said.

After the council meeting, several councilors-elect agreed the downtown may be at risk without the zoning change.

"We've worked so hard on our downtown that we need to take a long, hard look at what goes there," said incoming Ward 2 Councilor Kevin J. Morandi.

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Soon-to-be Ward 4 Councilor Christopher J. Connell added, "I think it's important to have in place the right mix of businesses in the downtown."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.

What's next ...

Pittsfield's Community Development Board and the City Council's Committee on Ordinance and Rules will spend the next few weeks reviewing a proposed zoning change to ban methadone clinics from the downtown business and arts district. Meeting dates for those reviews have yet to be set.

Both boards will make separate recommendations to the entire City Council for a final vote.

View a PDF of the proposed zoning law changes below. ZoningMap_Citywide_200909


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