On Tuesday, that final battle was won when the Johnson City Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved a special exception to allow the non-residential substance abuse treatment facility.
It will be the first clinic in the Tri-Cities approved and certified to administer methadone.
“It went very well and we’re obviously pleased with the outcome,” said Lindy White, CEO of Woodridge and Franklin Woods hospitals.
“Obviously, it’s that process of zoning that we’ve been working through over the last couple of months. Now we’re doing some work in regards to the design and completion of the building and site work.”
In May, Mountain States CEO Alan Levine and ETSU President Brian Noland announced their intent to open an addiction treatment clinic in Gray as part of the newly formed Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Center.
Five days later, the two local institutions filed a certificate of need application with the state, but it wasn’t without opposition.
Citizens to Maintain Gray, a group that has opposed several issues in the community, met a few days after the announcement to begin discussing how to keep the clinic from opening in their community.
On Aug. 24, those against and for the clinic met in Nashville to provide public comment while the Tennessee Health Services and Development Agency deliberated whether to approve the clinic’s certificate of need application. Despite Citizens to Maintain Gray offering a 2,000-plus-person petition opposed to the clinic, the agency voted 8-0 to approve the certificate of need application.
The Citizens to Maintain Gray filed an appeal with the agency, but later it was later dropped.
“I have withdrawn that appeal,” Citizens to Maintain Gray organizer Danny Sells said during an Oct. 5 City Commission hearing.
“I had a scheduling conference (Oct. 4). I requested mediation as opposed to a case hearing. Mountain States Health Alliance attorney Dan Elrod was not in favor of mediation. I don’t have the ability to fight a billion-dollar corporation.”
Meanwhile, a rezoning request was making it way through the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission and later the City Commission to properly designate 203 Gray Commons Circle as a medical services district, a requirement needed in order operate an addiction treatment clinic at that particular location.
Commissioners formally approved the third reading of the rezoning request on Oct. 7, making way for the Board of Zoning Appeals’ determination that the site met the special exceptions requirement.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to be through these administrative hurdles. It now gives us an opportunity to begin making some of this an operational reality. It also (allows us) to begin building some bridges back to the community and others in the region so we can work together going forward to help create very effective, long-lasting solutions,” said Dr. Robert Pack, director of ETSU’s Center for Prescription Drug Abuse and Treatment.
White said the project will now enter “an aggressive work completion plan,” which will include renovating the current building and adding additional parking spaces.
“Fortunately for us, (the building) has the needed structure in place. We’re going to be moving some walls just to accommodate the program and to accommodate the best possible flow for this particular program,” White said.
“It’s not extensive internal work, other than just moving walls, but again, it’s the site work, the grading, planning (and) the prep for the parking that is going to take the longest.”
The designs, renovations and site work will initiate sometime around January, White said.
“So for that design completion, building and site work, we’re looking at likely the middle of June before all of that gets completed,” White said.
“We’re anticipating by the end of July of next year that we’re going to have this program up and running and accepting our first patients, which we’re most excited about.”
White said she hopes to have the clinic’s on-site medical director and on-site program manager hired by the end of January or early February.
Pack said he hopes to eventually alleviate some of the concern felt by the Gray community toward the clinic.
“That is our goal. We understand the concerns of the community and we know that is going to take some time,” White said.
“We’re going to be working hard to get a program of excellence in place, but we’re going to be working equally as hard to engage with our communities to make sure that long-term they see that. That’s going to be an important part of our commitment.”
Sells said the opposition group is still analyzing ways to oppose the clinic, whether that involves creating a neighborhood watch or finding an angle to file a lawsuit.
Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP