The New Castle Planning Commission has voted to recommended DON Recovery’s project to open a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in the Central Building during a virtual meeting last Wednesday.

The commission serves in an advisory capacity. Its recommendation now goes to city council, which makes the final determination.

The planning commission previously had voted to recommend the project via email by a 3-2 vote on April 9. However, it had failed to accept public comments before casting the vote, which also did not occur in public. The commission then held a virtual meeting nearly a month later where it accepted 10 pieces of public comment and conducted another vote.

Although the comments were not read aloud during the meeting, they were supplied to The News by Shawn Anderson, the city’s community and economic development coordinator. All 10 submitted comments were in favor of recommending the project to New Castle City Council.

“What we need in this town is more and better drug recovery services,” wrote Betty McCandless via the city’s website. “We have a major drug problem here. I would like to think our elected officials would be on board with any and all recovery services for our citizens. Please vote YES for Don Recovery Services!!”

“DON Recovery Services, Inc. for Drug and Alcohol Counseling Center proposal would be (an) exceptional program for New Castle and it’s ever-present drug problem,” wrote Donna McHattie. “Retired Asst. DA Diane Shaffer was a driving force in Lawrence County’s Drug Court which was a great program that demanded accountability and offered compassion.”

“New Castle should be exceedingly overjoyed to have Don Services along with Diane Shaffer purpose this much-needed service to their Planning Commission,” McHattie continued. “In my opinion, as a loyal voter, the Commission would be foolish not to vote for its acceptance. Thank you everyone for your service to our community.”

The vote remained 3 to 2 in favor of the recommendation.

Chairman Chris Miller, David Esposito, Frank Ross voted yes while Steve Farris and Jeff Fandozzi voted no.

None of the five commission members changed his vote the second time.

According to a 25-page document published on the city’s website, Fandozzi said in a transcribed text message that he voted no because he felt the applicant had been dishonest when answering a question he had asked about whether the applicant had appeared before the commission previously in relation to this project.

He also mentioned this project’s past appearing before the city’s zoning board of appeals. Both Shaffer and attorney Philip Berezinak appeared before the board in November to ask the city to recognize a nonconforming use they say was present when Highland House operated out of the same building years ago.

The city’s former solicitor Jason Medure spoke on behalf of the city during that hearing, saying he believed this request was made simply to circumvent the city’s processes of applying for a new conditional use request.

The zoning board voted unanimously to deny the request to recognize the nonconforming use.

“They knew then what a proper procedure was and chose all the wrong turns and being forced to travel the correct one,”  Fandozzi’s transcription reads. “Now they want to bully our decision with COVID and closing of borders to bolster (their) application.”

Farris voted no because he believes “this type of activity” should not be permitted in the downtown business district, especially when efforts are being made to revitalize the area.

A PowerPoint outlining DON’s specific action plan is also included in the 25-page document as well as answers to questions the commission members submitted via email.

City council now will hold a public hearing for DON representatives to present the same project and accept more public comments and questions.

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