The city of Morristown has new proposed zoning regulations that will both allow ReVIDA Recovery Center to remain at its current location off West Morris Boulevard and address nuisance concerns that have been voiced loudly to Morristown City Council members, officials say.
The Morristown Regional Planning Commission approved the test amendments on Tuesday. Councilmembers will first address the proposed changes on Nov. 19, and a final vote is expected on Dec. 3. ReVIDA would have to restart the approval process, beginning with the planning commission and leading to a council vote, according to Morristown City Attorney Lauren Carroll.
The most substantial change to the zoning regulations would be eliminating distance requirements between drug-treatment facilities and places like churches, schools and public parks. In August, the Morristown Board of Zoning Appeals concluded that ReVIDA could not locate on Bowman Avenue because it’s closer than 1,000 feet to a church and residential property.
Steve Neilson, lead city planner, says the BZA’s rejecting the so-called use-on-review had zero chance to withstand a legal challenge because recovering drug addicts are a protected class under the Americans with Disability Act, which prohibits regulations that unduly restricts the location of treatment facilities.
The proposed new zoning regulations provide that ReVIDA, which routinely prescribes Suboxone and Subutex as part of a treatment regimen, will have to obtain a certificate of need before final approval. The same rules would apply to methadone clinics, which unlike ReVIDA, dispense medications for opiod addiction, generally methadone.
Clinics like ReVIDA must be located close to an arterial or a collector roadway; provide indoor space for waiting patients; open the doors 30 minutes before patients are seen; post a no-loitering sign; provide information on staffing levels; and provide a contact person to respond to complaints.
“We are committed to our patients and to the greater Morristown community, including complying with applicable regulations,” Lee Dilworth, ReVIDA CEO wrote in response to questions.”
When the BZA rejected ReVIDA’s clinic on Bowman Street, the agency’s attorney, John W. Peterson, filed a petition in Hamblen County Chancery Court to get what he viewed as a cut-and-dried matter before a judge. Peterson says that if that didn’t bring the expected results he would have sued Morristown in federal court.
Neilson says he’s researched the issue and has found no other similar legal dispute in which a municipality has prevailed, including one filed against his former employer, Johnson City.
The ReVIDA CEO says that if all goes as represented, there will be no need for future litigation.
“We filed suit to protect our patients’ rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we now appreciate the city’s comprehensive review of its ordinances,” Dilworth wrote. “We are considering the new language now and are hopeful it will lead to full resolution of this matter.”