Developer John Simone has filed a lawsuit against Lawrence Township and its zoning board of adjustment for that board's June denial of a use variance he needs to open an inpatient drug and alcohol detoxification center in a building he owns on Federal City Road.
"We filed the lawsuit this week," Simone said Friday (Sept. 16).
The lawsuit, he said, claims that the zoning board – which turned his controversial application down by a 4-2 vote – "acted in an arbitrary and capricious way on whether we met the test of being an inherently beneficial use."
Simone added, "We don't believe the board understood the rights Americans with addictions have under federal laws on the handicapped and on housing."
Lawrence Township Manager Richard Krawczun declined to comment on the lawsuit. "We have not yet seen the lawsuit and at this time have no comment on it," he said.
Simone’s application for a use variance that would have allowed a Florida-based company, Sunrise Detox, to open a 38-bed inpatient facility in the 17,209-square-foot building was the subject of nine exhausting and often-heated zoning board hearings between November 2010 and June.
Area residents protested the proposal, saying they feared for their safety and believed such a facility for addicts should not be located so close to residential neighborhoods Simone said those fears were groundless.
While in his view there is a need for such facilities, he conceded that there are no inpatient detox centers in Mercer County.
Asked when his case against the township might reach trial in Superior Court, Simone estimated "four-to-six months."
In the meantime, Simone said he is continuing with the other tactic in his dual strategy to offer detox treatment in Lawrence Township - he has been negotiating with township officials for weeks on an application for a zoning permit that would allow his building on Federal City Road to be used as an outpatient detox center run by Sunrise or a similar firm.
"If we win in court and get the zoning permit, we'll open both an inpatient and an outpatient facility," he said. "I'm scheduled to meet with township officials [this] week on my zoning permit application."
He said an outpatient center "would be, in a larger sense, no more than a physician's office. No drugs would be dispensed there – only prescriptions. Services offered there would include testing and group therapy."
He noted that being able to open the inpatient center would have meant 35-to-40 new jobs, some of them full-time, some part-time.
"And a considerably amount of money would have been spent locally, at a variety of businesses, had we been able to open," he said. "We'd be buying food, medical equipment and other supplies, and prescriptions would be getting filled at local pharmacies."