Real estate developer John Simone is employing a dual strategy in his continuing effort to install a drug and alcohol detoxification facility in a vacant building he owns on Federal City Road in Lawrence Township.
Simone on Tuesday (Aug. 9) said that "we're going to file an appeal in Superior Court" against the Lawrence Township Zoning Board's – by a 4-2 vote – of his controversial application for a use variance that would have allowed a Florida-based company, Sunrise Detox, to open a 38-bed inpatient facility in the building.
Meanwhile, as he readies to file his appeal in court, Simone has applied with the township zoning board for a permit that would allow him to install an outpatient detox facility in the same building.
The 17,209-square-foot building owned by Simone that Sunrise had hoped to use for its proposed inpatient facility 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. The Crayons Nursery School is also nearby.
Simone’s application for the use variance drew vehement protests from area residents, who said they feared for their safety and believed such a facility should not be located so close to residential neighborhoods. From November 2010 through to June, nine exhausting and often-heated zoning board hearings were held about the application.
Lawrence Township Manager Richard Krawczun said Tuesday that he had met with township professional consultants that very morning to review Simone's application for permission to lease the building as an outpatient detox facility.
"We'll be sending Mr. Simone some questions we have about his application for the permit," Krawczun said.
Simone said that, under the law, he cannot appeal the zoning board's rejection of the inpatient detox facility proposal until the board has adopted a formal memorialization of its decision on the case. The board is expected to vote on that memorialization at its next meeting on Aug. 17. Simone said he will attend that meeting.
"We are confident the board erred and didn't understand the law" when it rejected Sunrise’s inpatient plan, Simone said. He said "we believe the inpatient facility was allowed under New Jersey case law that holds such a facility 'inherently beneficial' to the community, just as day care centers and nursing homes are inherently beneficial."
Simone said he is conferring with the township – and has applied for the zoning permit – on an outpatient facility because he is concerned about how long and arduous a course the appeal to the Superior Court on the rejection of the inpatient facility proposal might prove to be.
"For example, the first hearing on the appeal might not be scheduled for months," he said. "That's a factor that we'd have to take into account."
While the township is weighing his request to allow his building to be used as an outpatient detox facility, Simone said he has been conferring with Sunrise and another firm – which he declined to name – about opening such an outpatient center.
"We're trying to find out from Sunrise and the other firm how long it would take to implement a plan for an outpatient facility," he said. "My approvals for the building do allow an outpatient clinic of this type."
He added that, in his view, he would have been well within his legal rights "to just open" an outpatient facility, but decided to confer with the township and apply for the zoning permit first.