In an all but too familiar scenario, the community of Lebanon Township in New Jersey is up in arms about the proposed opening of an in-patient drug rehabilitation facility in this community of 6,588 (2010 Census numbers). Town Hall meetings have been scheduled for July 17 and 23 following the original Town hall meeting of Feb. 27, with Dr. Henry Odunlami. Located in the General Service Area 44 of Alcoholics Anonymous in Northern New Jersey and New Jersey Narcotics Anonymous it is very evident that this facility will be fed mostly by these entities.
Hearings on proposed drug facility will continue on July 17 and 23
Published: Friday, July 13, 2012, 12:53 PM
By Lillian Shupe/Hunterdon County Democrat
LEBANON TWP. — A public hearing continues tonight, Tuesday, July 17 before the Planning Board on an application by GenPsych to convert an office building on Trimmer Road into an addiction treatment facility.
The debate will continue on Tuesday, July 17 and Monday, July 23 at Woodglen School on Bunnvale Road. Both meetings are to begin at 7 p.m.
Early on in the process, most of the residents who spoke have been against the facility. They said they fear that patients will leave the facility to go looking for drugs or money in nearby homes. One man stated he had a gun drawn on him by an addict. He did not say if that person was in treatment at the time of the incident or not. They are also concerned with traffic to an from the facility. According to prior testimony, family would only be visiting on weekends but there will be deliveries during the day and staff coming and going.
In more recent hearings, more people have come forward to say how important such facilities are and that there is nothing to fear. Opponents have been accused of being “NIMBYs” (Not in my back yard!). In fact, it is the people with addictions who are not in rehab, are the ones who should be feared, supporters said.
At the most recent hearing, resident Kevin Devine said his personal concern was the safety of his children. “I have not heard anything that their safety will not be impacted by this. These people staying there are not my friends or neighbors. They don’t care about the neighborhood.”
William Hildebrant pointed out that a Lebanon Township church already hosts meetings for recovering alcoholics. He said he became addicted to drugs and alcohol after serving in the military. “I was drafted and fought so you can be free. I got hooked on drugs. Rehab saved my life,” he said.
He said, before he sobered up, he never robbed anybody, nor molested any children.
Now sober for a quarter century, Hildebrant said, “We started meeting at the church over 25 years ago. It is still going strong every Tuesday.”
James Bowkley said, “People are against rehabs and detox, but I want to say that detox saved my life, There are ignorant people talking about methadone. Rehab is where people go to get help. People should get their facts straight,” he said, This is a 28-day in-patient treatment center, “There won’t be gangsters, monsters or villains running around.”
“I would think Lebanon Township would be proud to have a treatment center here,” Bowkley said.
A neighbor to the property, Karen Verso said, “I agree that treatment centers are necessary, it’s this location” that is the problem.
The location is on 15 acres off of Route 513 with the entrance on Trimmer Road. The building sits in the center of the lot. There is a home on the other side of Trimmer Road near 513 and homes behind the property.
There are other half-way houses and facilities in the state that are located in residential areas.
Suzanne Stanford Harvey said she grew up next to Honesty House in Stirling, “We met good people that wanted to turn their lives around.” She said there were never problems with patients causing problems in the neighborhood.
Honesty House closed several years ago but in 2010 a new detox program reopened a 21-bed facility in the home. Unlike Genpsych’s proposed facility, Sunrise Detox center has received mostly positive feedback.
Harvey said she too, is a recovering addict. “I went to rehab and now I’m a better person.” She noted that the patients would be there voluntarily. “These people are seeking to not be sick and tired. They won’t have drugs and guns. I have been proud to be a resident here until I started to come to these meetings. Recovery incorporates the whole family, Being an hour away makes that difficult,” she said.
According to prior testimony, patients at GenPsych’s facility would not be allowed to come and go as they please. They would only be allowed outside in a garden behind the building and would be supervised around the clock.
Elizabeth Connelly of High Bridge said she was also saved by rehab. “I used to drive through the area half-lit, to get alcohol.” She said she did not want to go to the same liquor store every time, lest she raise suspicion. “You are safer with those people in there, than you are with them out on the streets,” she said, “People say they don’t want it in your backyard but where are we supposed to put these facilities?”
In the end though, the Planning Board cannot approve or deny the application based upon how people feel about rehab facilities. The board can only look at the legal questions and interpret the ordinance as it applies to the application. The main question is whether or not the facility qualifies as an approved use in the zone. Although some residents have repeatedly stated that the facility would be in a residential area, the property in question is in an industrial zone. GenPsych’s attorney has argued that the facility would be considered a hospital and thus an allowable use in the zone.
Another question that needs to be answered is if the septic system will be adequate for the use. Other residents have brought of issues of flooding and traffic.
Representatives from GenPsych have listened to the residents’ testimony but have not offered any answers or counter testimony. They will make a closing statement before the board votes.
At the next meeting, individual residents will continue to testify. When all who want to have had their say, a group of residents who have hired an attorney to represent them will state their case.
A lawsuit is also pending in Superior Court but won’t move forward until after the Planning Board makes a decision. The lawsuit seeks to have the application heard before the Board of Adjustment instead of the Planning Board. If the Planning Board denies the application, the suit will be moot.