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Why not the Med-Tech Corridor?

Gary B. Gray • Aug 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM

There is an argument being made that if an opioid addiction treatment center were to open in Washington County, it would work best if located in Johnson City’s Med-Tech Corridor.

Most making this argument say its zoning would accommodate a facility, up-to-date infrastructure would provide better traffic flow and delivery of services and placing a center in a medical “neighborhood” would patients in a more controlled environment.

The Med-Tech corridor and East Tennessee State University serve as the city’s largest economic anchors. The corridor includes the Johnson City Medical Center, Franklin Woods Community Hospital and affiliated facilities.

“Personally, I feel locating it in the Med-Tech Corridor would be better,” said Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal. “I think you’ll have a little different clientele if you have a facility that stands out and is not located among other medical facilities.”

Graybeal said he has talked with many members of law enforcement from various communities who agree a methadone clinic simply would work better if it is near a hospital and other medical facilities.

“That would place the people seeking treatment in a more controlled environment,” he said “It’s not always about what corporate interests want; it’s about what works best for the community.”

Graybeal’s counterpart, Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois, said the matter revolves around land use.

“The aim of the appointed and governing boards is to consider a proposed site, and make the determination if the land use is appropriate, based on any number of factors,”Sirois said. “The law enforcement scope is that, whatever site is selected, we provide police services as needed at and in the area, and we will do that to the very best of our ability.”

Washington County Commissioner Mark Larkey is one of three commissioners serving District 7, in which an opioid addiction at 203 Gray Commons Circle Road has been proposed. Bryan Davenport and Mike Ford also serve the district.

Larkey opposes placing the clinic in Gray and pointed out the proposed site is currently zoned B-5 (planned community business) under the city zoning designation, which prohibits methadone clinics.

There are no MS-1 (medical services) zonings in the Gray area and the surrounding properties of the proposed methadone clinic in Gray are largely county zoned R-1 and A-1 (rural and agricultural), the surrounding city zonings are B-5 and A-1.

“The city of Johnson City currently has a zoning designation in conjunction with a special exception from their Board of Zoning Appeals to accommodate non-residential substance treatment facilities which allow the dispensing of methadone,” Larkey said.

“The Johnson City Commission and Planning Commission in 2015 altered some of the regulations in the MS-1 zoning specifically to ensure these facilities had areas to operate in if they met certain criteria. It is very important to note that the nearest current MS-1 city zoning is on Knob Creek Road in Johnson City, a significant distance from Gray.”

Larkey said Davenport, Ford and Gray residents “strongly assert” the MS-1 designation is completely out of character for the proposed Gray site. They also have encouraged the petitioners to operate in a location currently zoned MS-1 in Johnson City, which is more suitable for the proposed use.

“If you continue to ram through a facility where residents are directly affected and disapprove, you will alienate homeowners, and you prove that you have no intention of placing this facility anywhere other than your current proposed site,” Gray resident Karen Ward said recently. “If patients need transport to a medical facility, how far and what facility/facilities are involved? Addicts do not want to stand out in a rural environment. They want to blend in and deflect scrutiny, and not draw attention to themselves.”

Email Gary Gray at ggray@johnsoncitypress.com. Like Gary B. Gray on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp. Follow him on Twitter @ggrayjcpress.

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