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Methadone clinic operator challenges Johnson City's zoning policy in lawsuit

May 29th, 2013 9:33 pm by Becky Campbell

Methadone clinic operator challenges Johnson City's zoning policy in lawsuit

The company attempting to open a drug treatment clinic in Johnson City filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month asking a judge to strike down the city’s zoning rules on such a facility and force the city to issue the required permits to allow the clinic.

Tri-Cities Holdings LLC filed the suit April 19, claiming Johnson City’s refusal to grant a permit for the clinic to locate at 4 Wesley Court has caused financial damage and forced opiate-addicted residents to travel unnecessary distances to seek treatment.

The suit also states city officials have refused to meet with TCH owners to discuss “a reasonable accommodation regarding 4 Wesley Court.”

TCH filed a request for a variance from the city’s zoning ordinance requirement to limit operations after 7 a.m. TCH wants to open at 5 a.m. Monday through Saturday to accommodate patients’ work schedules.

TCH filed the suit on behalf of eight unidentified opiate-addicted residents from Johnson City who affirmed in the court filing they now have to travel “more than 100 miles round trip” to an opiate treatment program in North Carolina because there is no local treatment clinic.

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As part of the permitting process, the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency conducted a public hearing in Johnson City on Tuesday about TCH co-owner Steve Kester’s filing a Certificate of Need request.

That action is separate from the company and unidentified patients lawsuit against the city, which also claims the city has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by its prohibitive zoning ordinances.

The suit states that the plaintiffs “have suffered economic injury from (Johnson City’s) violations of the Rehabilitation Act including, but without limitation, their having to drive thousands of additional miles and expend hundreds of additional hours of drive time to receive treatment at distant methadone clinics.”

TCH also claims the city’s restrictive zoning ordinances make it practically impossible to locate a methadone clinic in Johnson City. The city’s zoning requires a methadone clinic be located in a MS-1 zoned area but also prohibits it from being located within 200 feet of a school, day-care facility or park, 200 feet of any business that sells on-premises or off-premises alcohol. The hours of operation are limited to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and the facility can only be located on an arterial street. 

An arterial street, according to the city’s zoning code is one that allows “traffic movement between areas and across portions of the city and secondarily for direct access for abutting land.” An example of an arterial street in Johnson City is State of Franklin Road.

The suit claims that of Johnson City’s 91 acres of property zoned MS-1, little is available  to TCH to locate its proposed clinic.

In the city’s response to the lawsuit, officials deny there has been economic injury to anyone in regards to their driving to any existing clinic, that there is no discrimination against TCH or that it is impossible for TCH to locate a methadone clinic in the city.

The city also states in its response to the suit that the Board of Zoning Appeals has no authority to grant TCH the variances it requested.

In its response to the suit, the city asked that the suit be dismissed, and any of TCH’s claims that are not dismissed be tried by a jury. TCH also asks in its suit for a jury trial on the issues presented.

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