Planning commission's virtual meeting ends in confusion

Diane Shaffer, DON Services program director, talks about a proposed DON Recovery Services outpatient clinic program at the Central Building last November.

A Lawrence County judge cited New Castle City Council's repeated use of speculation and disregard of evidence as reason to overturn the denial of a proposed downtown drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.

DON Recovery Services' plan to open the facility inside the Central Building on South Mercer Street was given the go-ahead on an appeal Sept. 16 in a case overseen by Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas Judge John W. Hodge. Council ruled against granting Recovery a conditional use request by a 4 to 1 vote on July 9.  

"The city council denied the appellant's conditional use application based entirely on specious and speculation concerns over the proposed center's effects on public safety and quality of life," Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas Judge John W. Hodge wrote in the court opinion.

According to Hodge, every concern the council cited for the denial was addressed in the evidence Recovery Services presented to the council members during the public hearing as Diane Shaffer, Recovery's program director, "extensively testified" to the property's daily operations, patients, security and potential impacts to the surrounding area.

Shaffer, Hodge wrote, testified the center would operate during normal weekday business hours and would incur minimal traffic disruptions as most of the patients would use public transport. She also testified the safety and security measures would be in line with the guidelines set forth by the state's Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) as there would a buzz-in system and multiple cameras both inside and outside of the property.

City council, however, Hodge wrote, "discounted" the presentation and "relied on unsubstantiated concerns about public safety."

Recovery Services met the burden of compliance with the city's zoning ordinance which entitled them to the "presumptive approval," Hodge wrote.

"The court finds these sentiments are more than adequately supported by the evidence of record, equally finds that city council's stated concerns about the proposed use are speculative, void and factually impotent," Hodge wrote.

Recovery Services will open in the South Mercer Street building in approximately four to six weeks after receiving a license from the DDAP and passing an inspection. 

“We are very pleased with the court’s ruling,” Shaffer said last week.

DON Recovery Services applied for a conditional use on March 3 to open an outpatient rehabilitation center in the central business district of the city. After the project was recommended by the city's planning commission by a 3 to 2 vote on May 6, Recovery Services went before the council on June 23 for a public hearing to present the plan.

Recovery Services then filed a land use appeal with the court on July 29.

mbasileo@ncnewsonline.com

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