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Lawsuit Filed Over Denial of Variance for Detox Facility

Developer John Simone has filed a lawsuit against Lawrence Township in response to the township zoning board's denial of a variance he needs to open an inpatient drug and alcohol detoxification center in a building he owns on Federal City Road.

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."

 

Previous Coverage

Aug. 19: Zoning Board Memorializes Decision in Detox Case

Aug. 10:

June 23:

June 22:

June 2:

June 1: Ninth Hearing Over Proposed Detox Center Tonight

May 27: Still No Resolution in Case of Proposed Detox Center

May 25:

May 13:

May 11:

April 27: Debate Over Proposed Detox Center Resumes Tonight

March 19:

Feb. 9:

Jan. 24:

Dec. 23:

Jim Ianni September 20, 2011 at 07:03 PM
Mr Simone. Please answer this.... When travelling on FEDERAL CITY ROAD and you turn right if you're coming from Ewing or left if you're coming from 95 does the street sign on the corner say "FEDERAL POINT BLVD" or "ALSO FEDERAL CITY RD"? I'll answer for you since you'll answer incorrectly again, it says FEDERAL POINT BLVD. After you turn onto FEDERAL POINT BLVD and travel around the 1st curve, that's where the entrance to your building is and also listed are your real estate offices. Interestingly enough your sign says 100 Federal City Road but you have no entrance on Federal City Road. One doesn't need to be an engineer to see that your buildings actual address is Federal Point Blvd as it sits right now. My suggestions are these two. 1.) Sell the building to someone who will use it for something less risky to the residents around it (argue all you want, but yes it is risky and potentially harmful to residents), or 2.) Put in an entrance actually on Federal City Road and fence off the facility completely to protect the homes directly around the facility.
David Smith September 21, 2011 at 05:06 PM
Great now the township residents will have to foot the bill to fight a lawsuit. Why is it every time a developer is told NO they just file a lawsuit and try to get by extortion what they couldn't get approved. However, Lawrence zoning board should make up their minds once and for all about this type of facility. Several years ago they opened a half way house on Titus Ave without even notifying the residents until a week or two before it was to open. It seems priorities change as members of the zoning boards change. Time to have a clear direction on what and where we will allow these types of facilities on the books and crystal clear. You can't place one in the middle of a neighborhood and then refuse to allow another without leaving yourself open to lawsuits that in the long run costs the taxpayers money.
David Smith September 21, 2011 at 05:34 PM
I don't think suggesting to someone they should sell their house is appropriate if they don't happen to agree with something. As township residents it is all our jobs to give our CONSTRUCTIVE input on the direction we want for our township. I know that placing a rehab center near a residential area is going to be controversial because of the type of facility and the perception that it may raise safety concerns and quite frankly the possibility of reducing property values in the area. It is the zoning boards job to consider and balance these concerns and give fair consideration to the concerns of the existing neighborhood and the prospective business. What is important is for the zoning board to be consistent with their rulings to avoid perceived favoritism and open the township up to lawsuits. As I recall the zoning board held numerous meetings to discuss this issue and give all sides ample opportunity to give their input. The fact that it has now become a legal issue is unfortunate because it will now cost all township residents money in legal fees that could be used for other more important issues the township faces.

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