Lawrence Township residents opposed to Sunrise Detox’s controversial plan to open a residential drug and alcohol detoxification center on Federal City Road got their chances to talk at the township Zoning Board meeting held Wednesday night (May 25).
And talk they did.
The opposition talked all the way into Thursday, presenting arguments against the center until well past midnight.
Charles Lavine had to recuse himself from his position as a Zoning Board member in order to testify. As a resident living within 200 feet of the proposed detox center, he was permitted to do so.
Lavine traveled to Sunrise Detox’s facility in Stirling, Morris County, to gather the evidence for his testimony.
“Contrary to statements by [property owner John Simone], the Stirling site is nothing like the Federal City Road site,” Lavine said.
He said the Stirling site was rural, with few houses or communities nearby.
The 17,209-square-foot building that Sunrise – a Florida-based company – 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 the owner, Simone, can legally lease the building to Sunrise for use as a short-term medical center.
Lavine said he also examined the Stirling facility itself, noting the kitchen in particular. “Our biggest concern is food waste drawing rodents,” he said. “We did not agree in 2009 to a restaurant kitchen.”
Resident Bill Dacey, who worked in the food service industry, said he toured the inside of the Stirling facility and also had concerns about the kitchen.
In particular, he worried about the large exhaust fan required for the kitchen, which he said would pump out smoke, odors and grease. “They spew out the odors […] into the community.”
Other residents were primarily concerned about the proximity of the facility to children, families and seniors.
Resident Ann Carmen said she does “not believe there are any merits to a detox center in a residential area,” and resident Edward Hogan, speaking just after her, added that, “There’s no guarantee of safety.”
Resident Lianne Lipskined, who works as a nurse practitioner by day, said she did not want to come home to more sick people by night. “These are often violent people,” she said. Concerned for her young children, she added, “I don’t feel it’s safe.”
But before any of those objections got voiced, the board listened to testimony from Richard Wohl, senior vice president of behavioral health at Princeton Healthcare Systems, which runs Princeton House, a detoxification and medical facility in Princeton Township
Wohl said he came to the meeting to “set the record straight” with .
“She is not knowledgeable enough about our operations to be able to present,” Wohl said.
Weber on May 11 said that at Princeton House, “we always have beds available.” She noted during her testimony that night that she was not speaking on behalf of Princeton House, but only sharing what she has seen in her four-and-a-half years working there. She noted that her brother lives in Lawrence close to the proposed Sunrise site.
“That is not true,” Wohl said of Weber’s statement about empty beds. “At times our facility is completely full.”
“We frequently cannot admit the people who want to come in for a number of our programs,” he said.
Wohl also clarified that Princeton House is not a residential detoxification center, as Sunrise would be. “We are a medical detox unit. There is a world of difference.”
Wohl said that while he knew Weber had taken time off from work on May 11, he had not known that it was to speak before the zoning board. If he had known, he said, “We would certainly have told her that that was not appropriate.”
The hearing – the eighth since November – did not bring a resolution to the matter.
The board had originally intended for the May 25 hearing to be the last about the Sunrise proposal, but by 12:30 a.m. it was clear that was not going to be the case. Many residents still hope to speak, and the board intends to give them an opportunity to do so.
The next hearing is scheduled to be held at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday, June 1, at the Lawrence Township Municipal Building, 2207 Lawrence Rd.