, Newburyport, MA


December 19, 2013

Our view: methadone clinic dispute should be closely watched

Our neighbors in the city of Haverhill are facing a dilemma that should be closely watched by communities throughout the region -- a controversial plan to open a methadone clinic on the Haverhill-Plaistow line.

Haverhill has used zoning ordinances to resist efforts to open methadone clinics elsewhere in the city. But this time, Spectrum Health Systems, the nonprofit organization that plans the clinic in the busy commercial and shopping district on the state line, believes it has the city over a barrel. In a letter to the city building inspector from Spectrum’s lawyer, the organization says it does not require zoning approval to open its clinic at 100 Plaistow Road due to the Dover Amendment.

The Dover Amendment is a state law that exempts certain agricultural, religious and educational organizations from local zoning requirements.

Spectrum’s letter said the clinic will not only administer methadone to patients addicted to heroin, but also provide educational services such as counseling and teaching independent living skills.

“The Dover Amendment exempts education programs like Spectrum’s from limitations imposed by zoning ordinances,” reads a Oct. 22 letter from attorney Paul Holtzman of the Krokidas & Bluestein law firm to Haverhill Building Inspector Richard Osborne.

It seems clear from the correspondence that Spectrum is not interested in being a good neighbor in Haverhill, finding a mutually acceptable site for its operation. Instead, Spectrum seems to want things its way, or else.

The lawyer’s letter goes on to cite previous instances in which its plans were challenged by host communities. Spectrum won legal challenges based on the Dover Amendment.

Nevertheless, Haverhill officials ought to challenge Spectrum’s plans in court. It is the purpose of courts to interpret applications of law, and each case is unique. According to Mayor James Fiorentini, the city has retained legal counsel in preparations for a possible legal fight.

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