Wednesday, January 19, 2000

Methadone clinic foes state case

Backers also testify in Covington trial

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — A former business leader testified Tuesday it wasn't moral concerns that drove him to fight a Pittsburgh-based group's bid to open a methadone clinic more than two years ago.

        Patrick Lance, formerly of the Covington Business Council, acknowledged that the concerns of residents, a Covington police officer and his fellow business owners weighed into his decision to suggest more restrictive zoning as a means of keeping methadone clinics and unsavory businesses out of Covington. But he emphasized twice that his morals were not a factor.

        “It seems like it,” countered David Davidson, one of two attorneys representing MX Group Inc. in the federal trial pitting the company and the city of Covington.

        MX Group Inc. brought suit after the city rejected its plans for a methadone clinic on West Pike Street near Carlisle Elementary School. The clinic met heavy opposition from residents, Covington police and business owners. The city subsequently eliminated zoning for methadone clinics.

        The lawsuit claimed the city of Covington did not afford MX due process of law and violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act in its efforts to keep MX from serving those disabled by their addictions.

        Methadone is used to wean addicts from heroin, pain killers and other opiates.

        Protesters said they didn't want recovering drug addicts frequenting that area, that the clinic could lead to increased crime and that its proximity to the school would be bad for children.

        After hearing their criticism, the city's board of adjustments overruled a decision by former Zoning Administrator Ralph Hopper. He already had told MX its proposal met local zoning codes.

        Steve McMurtry is representing the city. He said Tuesday that companies wanting to operate methadone clinics in Covington can still do so by pursuing a change to the city's zoning plan.

        Such an amendment would not be site specific. Instead, it would be to all zones of a certain type. Many businesses have been successful with this tactic, he said.

        U.S. District Judge William O. Bertelsman said the case ultimately will boil down to this question: “Can the city bar all activity of a particular kind.” Today, he will hear witnesses testify on behalf of Covington. He is expected to issue a ruling within four months.

        MX is asking for injunctive relief — or, as MX attorney William Oldfield said, “to be treated like any other clinic.”

        At Tuesday's proceedings, five witnesses testified on MX's behalf. They included Mr. Hopper, Mr. Lance and Melissa Fabian, a Fort Wright resident who had worked to open the MX facility in Covington.

        Ms. Fabian noted that MX chose the Pike Street site because it was the most accessible, available and affordable.

        She recalled public hearings at which residents protested MX's plans. They didn't want to hear the full details, she said. Many, she said, wanted to talk about the proposal's proximity to the elementary school and how they wouldn't feel safe letting their school-age children walk past the clinic.

        “My impression was that there was a lot of anger,” she said. “there was a lot of yelling (and) almost personal attacks like, how would I like this in my neighborhood?”

        She didn't deny that methadone has side effects on drug addicts, including restlessness, faintness and dry mouth. But, she said, the positive outcomes far outweigh the negative ones.


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