In its fifth hearing on the matter since November, the Lawrence Township Zoning Board this week heard from the final two witnesses testifying on behalf of Sunrise Detox, which wants to open a 38-bed in-patient drug and alcohol detoxification center on Federal City Road.
The meeting on Wednesday (March 16), , featured a highly contested back-and-forth between representatives and proponents of Sunrise’s proposed center and residents who believe that such a facility should not be located so close to residential neighborhoods. The 17,000-square-foot building that Sunrise hopes to use 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.
A land-use variance must be issued by the zoning board before property owner John Simone can legally lease the building to Sunrise for use as a short-term medical center.
A sixth hearing will be held by the zoning board at the township municipal building at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 13. During that hearing residents will be allowed to express their general opinions about the issue. During the previous meetings, including the one this week, members of the public were limited to commenting and asking questions directly in response to testimony presented on behalf of Sunrise.
Thomas Allen, advocacy director for the National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependency of New Jersey, asserted his belief that a local detox center would be a positive thing for the area.
He said that the lack of drug addiction treatment services in New Jersey is “alarming, and that it mirrors the lack of available resources in the nation.”
He went on to note many points from research conducted by Dr. Leslie Hendrickson, an East Windsor-based consultant who is working with Sunrise, and reiterated from previous Sunrise testimony that 2009 federal statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that nearly 557,000 adults who live in the state of New Jersey have “an unmet need for substance abuse services.”
Of that number, Allen continued, data shows that only 51,000 adults sought treatment, with about 3,800 of those adults turning to in-patient treatment similar to that which would be provided at Sunrise’s proposed center.
“Three out of four New Jerseyians know someone with a [substance] abuse problem,” he added.
In addition to his work at NCADD, Allen serves as associate director of City of Angels, a Hamilton Township-based group that helps people overcome their addictions. He said that he regularly sees local men and women in the throes of addiction, desperately seeking rehabilitation.
The difficulty for many addicts, he said, is that they either can’t find room in a local detoxification center or they lack health insurance.
Allen told zoning board members that allowing Sunrise to open its facility on Federal City Road would provide those in need of help that “somewhere” where they can start on a sober path.
Zoning Board member Sam Pangaldi questioned whether those individuals without adequate financial resources would be admitted to Sunrise and asked Allen how people without the means to do so would pay for Sunrise’s $1,700-per-day fee.
“When we started out, there was going to be this ‘high rent’ person, and now we’re talking about welfare recipients,” Pangaldi said.
In addition to Allen’s presentation, licensed professional planner Michael Mueller said he found the proposed detoxification center to be inherently beneficial and said it will be a resource that “fundamentally serves the community.”
Residents from the Traditions at Federal Point neighborhood countered by arguing the proposed center’s close proximity to residential housing was “conveniently” left out of the presentation made by Mueller and the photographs he showed.
Attempting to counter residents’ concerns about increased traffic, noise and water and sewer usage that would result from the proposed center, Mueller noted that the facility would create about 40 jobs, and would make use of local food service providers.
“It would be a new service for the township and certainly others as well, and the general welfare is serviced,” Mueller said.
Most residents in the packed audience maintained their argument that the facility should be located a few miles away in a less residentially-dense area.
While saying the Federal Road City site is a good fit for Sunrise’s needs, Mueller conceded that there may be other locations that would be just as appropriate. “The site is suitable for the use. That’s not to say that there aren’t any other sites that would be compatible as well,” he said.
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