Debate Continues Over Proposed Rehab Center
The Lawrence Township Zoning Board on Feb. 2 will hold its fourth hearing on the proposal to set up a 38-bed drug and alcohol detoxification facility in a building on Federal City Road.
Concerned residents and members of the Lawrence Township Zoning Board last week continued to ask Sunrise Detox representatives questions about the Florida-based company’s plans to set up a drug and alcohol detoxification facility in the township.
It was the third hearing before the zoning board about the proposal to open a 38-bed facility in an existing building located on Federal City Road, near the entrance to the Traditions at Federal Point adult community.
The board and audience, made up of about 60 residents, listened on Wednesday, Jan. 19, as Warren Connelly, executive director for New Jersey’s Sunrise facility, continued his testimony about what the proposed facility’s day-to-day operations would be like.
In order for the building’s owner, John Simone, to lease the 17,000-square-foot building to Sunrise, the zoning board must first grant a land-use variance for it to be used as a short-term medical center.
No decision from the board was forthcoming last Wednesday. A fourth hearing on Sunrise’s proposal will take place before the zoning board on Feb. 2.
Connelly said in his testimony to the board that based on the statistics from their facilities in Florida and Stirling, N.J., there was sufficient need for a site in Lawrence Township.
“In the last three years [in Florida] we had 151 admissions. In one year, now that we’re in Stirling, we’ve had 137 admissions in one third of the time,” he said.
“I would imagine these numbers [of enrollment] would continue to go up, and you would see more local people availing themselves to treatment,” he continued.
By opening up in Lawrence, Connelly and several of his associates argued, Sunrise would be able to help people who would otherwise not have access to such services.
“People are scared of the use, they don’t understand it. This is not like you’ve got a bunch of criminals coming in — that’s not it. It’s people who need help,” he said in recognition of residents’ unease with the proposal.
Chief concerns voiced by the audience members involved the size of the trucks that would be making deliveries to the facility, and the process by which real medical emergencies at the facility would be handled.
Other questions from residents and board members surrounded the process used by Sunrise to select a location for the proposed facility.
Connelly said that in addition to looking at properties along Princeton Pike in Lawrence Township, Sunrise considered locations in Hunterdon and Somerset counties.
The difficulty, he continued, was that there wasn’t a willing host. Connelly said Sunrise found a willing landowner in Simone.
“You’re either looking for a township that is friendly to you or a property owner who is receptive,” he said regarding the location selection process.
Connelly estimated that Sunrise would spend about $2 million fitting the building out to their specifications. The center would likely have about 30 staff vehicles coming in per shift. There would be two shifts per day, with about 30 personnel on at all times, he said.
Critics of the location of the proposed detox facility argued that Simone’s motivation was purely to rent out his property, without regard for its setting adjacent to a residential neighborhood.
Dr. Leslie Hendrickson, an East Windsor-based consultant who is working with Sunrise, testified that New Jersey has fewer detox programs then national averages.
He told the board that about 41,000 people in the state in need of detoxification services might benefit from having treatment available to them in a residential setting.
In response to that claim by Hendrickson that there is an unmet need in the state for detoxification services, board members inquired about the attendance rates at 12 comparable detox centers run by other companies in New Jersey. Regular vacancies at those facilities would cast doubt that there is such a need, board members said.
But attendance details from those other facilities were not available. Sunrise representatives could only say that their 21-bed Stirling facility has been filled to capacity since its December 2009 opening.
The next hearing on Sunrise’s proposal will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Township Municipal Building at 2207 Lawrence Rd. (Route 206).