After months of testimony and cross-examination before the Lawrence Township Zoning Board by those both for and against it, all that is left now is for board members to vote whether or not to approve plans for the controversial drug and alcohol detoxification center that Sunrise Detox wants to open close to residential developments near Federal City Road.
At the end of Wednesday night’s (June 1) hearing – the ninth zoning board hearing on the subject since November – public comment was officials closed with regard to the proposed 38-bed drug and alcohol detoxification center, and the township planning consultant and representatives of the Florida-based Sunrise gave their summations.
On June 22, zoning board members will vote on whether or not to grant the land-use variance that is required before property owner John Simone can legally lease a building he owns to Sunrise for use as a short-term medical center.
The 17,209-square-foot building in question sits at the entrance to the Traditions at Federal Point adult community and directly behind the homes in another development that includes Frederick Court and Karena Lane.
“It’s a complicated case that must be carefully parsed,” township planning consultant Brian Slaugh said.
He reviewed the main criteria for granting the variance needed for Sunrise to open for business at the site – namely, that the center is “inherently beneficial.”
In New Jersey, “inherently beneficial” institutions, Slaugh noted, “are typically not for profit.”
Sunrise has testified that it does not take Medicaid and Medicare patients, among others. “Thus, the potential patients are limited to only those with higher income levels or significant savings,” Slaugh said. “We conclude that it is a for-profit enterprise.”
That does not necessarily preclude Sunrise from being “inherently beneficial,” Slaugh said, but he added that the company’s refusal to accept charity patients may weigh against its claim that it is “inherently beneficial.”
While Slaugh left the question of “inherently beneficial” up to board members to decide, some residents testified that they saw nothing beneficial about the center.
Marvin Van Hise, a Lawrence Township resident who has organized much of the opposition to the center, pointed out that “inherently beneficial” institutions are usually not commercial.
“[Sunrise] is clearly commercial,” Van Hise said. “Sunrise chose Lawrenceville because [property owner Simone] had an empty building.”
Fellow township resident Falk Engle said that “inherently beneficial” facilities “are not permitted to turn their back on the poor and the needy.”
“A pure profit-making venture…cannot be deemed an ‘inherently beneficial’ use,” Engle said. “They’re simply not addressing the social need.”
But not everyone who spoke Wednesday night was opposed to the center. A woman from Ewing, who asked to remain anonymous because of the personal details she shared, began her testimony by holding up photographs of her daughter and husband. “This is what addiction looks like,” she said.
The woman said most people only know addiction by what they see on television, and that society isolates addicts and their families, making them feel ashamed and guilty.
“I pray none of you have to live through this nightmare, but I fear some of you will,” she said.
She refuted many of the fears that other residents have voiced. “They are there for help and are extremely sick,” she said. “Running rampant through neighborhoods and robbing people is the farthest thing from their minds.”
Township resident Edward Wiznitzer also spoke in favor of the center. “The need for this facility here in Lawrenceville has been understated.”
Wiznitzer said he saw no detrimental effects stemming from the center. “Unsubstantiated stereotyping of Sunrise clientele should not be given consideration by the board,” he said.
Tod Price, a Hopewell and Manchester Township resident who has been sober for 27 years, agreed that the stereotyping needed to stop and stressed the importance of detox centers. “We need facilities like this in every township,” Price said.
“Everybody in this room has been affected by this one way or another,” he said. “You don’t live in Oz.” He said his wife, also a former addict, will not return to Lawrence because of the lack of support she faced while going through rehab.
For township resident Suzanne Seraphim, it was all about the children, though. She let her daughter Savannah do most of the talking. The 13-year-old said she learned about drugs in school and feels like she would be affected by the detox center going up close to her backyard.
“I just don’t feel like I would be safe with this in my neighborhood,” Savannah said.
In his summation, Christopher Costa, an attorney for Sunrise, said that a lot of the fear is just speculation. “We believe that the board has no choice but to determine that our use is inherently beneficial,” he said. “This is a case that should be decided on the facts, not on speculation.”
Zoning board attorney David Roskos agreed that the case needed to be judged based on facts. “This application should not be decided on fear or speculation.”
Board members will decide the fate of Sunrise’s application for a variance when they deliberate and vote during their next meeting to be held on June 22 beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Lawrence Township Municipal Building at 2207 Lawrence Rd.