PLEASANTVILLE — The Planning Board voted down plans Tuesday to relocate outpatient services of a drug treatment and prevention clinic from its Atlantic City Tourism District home to the Pleasantville Shopping Center.
About 70 residents came out Tuesday night to oppose plans for the John Brooks Recovery Center outpatient site.
After closing the public comment portion of the meeting around 10 p.m., the board voted 9-0 to deny a change-of-use application for the facility. Approval would have allowed the facility to open an outpatient off-branch in the shopping center and allow an addition of 36 parking spots to the lot, which is off the Black Horse Pike.
Before hearing the application, the Planning Board voted on whether the proposed facility is an approved use for a shopping district. If they had decided it was not, the issue would have gone before the Zoning Board. However majority of the board voted that the proposed use for a drug treatment facility is considered a medical office and — based on city ordinance that allows medical centers in a shopping district — they voted it was appropriate and therefore would hear the application and vote.
But the board eventually said that public safety concerns could be a lawful exception to deny the plan.
"I've lived in this city for 58 years and Pleasantville feels we're always treated like a dumping ground," Board Chairman Brian Vigue said after the vote. "We deserve better. We're working toward better, and this would hurt that."
When the city approved the area as a mixed medical use, they were not thinking of a methadone clinic, Vigue said. "My doctor and dentist office is a medical building. This is not," he said.
Atlantic City and Atlantic County officials as well as the center's officials have been trying for years to relocate the Brooks Recovery Center away from Atlantic City’s casinos. One of the issues with the current site is lack of space.
The facility, which has been in operation since 1969, is currently located off Pacific Avenue between Bally’s Atlantic City and Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City. The proposed plan was to relocate the majority of its outpatient services to the Pleasantville Shopping Center, while still maintaining a small presence in Atlantic City to treat its estimated 300 city residents who benefit from its program.
The facility’s inpatient component will move to the Hamilton Business Park in Hamilton Township, a deal that has already been set in motion.
Pleasantville residents and city officials have been vocally opposing the clinic’s move into their city since it was announced, saying it would hinder efforts to reinvigorate Pleasantville’s economy and change its perception. Residents in attendance Tuesday also voiced fears of increased crime in the area, which is often linked with individuals with drug addictions, and overcrowding in the shopping center.
The Brooks Recovery Center's services include methadone distribution, which is used to treat addiction by weaning users off narcotics such as heroin.
Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle, who also sits on the Planning Board but recused himself from Tuesday’s discussion, has publicly objected the plan.
Tweedle said he was proud of his city for showing up to voice their concerns.
"This is the kind of thing that defines a community," he said.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson has said the facility’s current location in the middle of the Atlantic City’s Tourism District is “counter-productive” and is in support of the move.
He has said the Pleasantville site is ideal because its in a commercial area and it offers access to public transportation via an existing bus route.
If the plan was approved, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority had agreed to help pay for the relocation costs.
The lease had also already been signed, but was contingent on all approval from planning board.
During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, Pleasantville resident Vernon Walker said he was “disappointed and angry that the County Executive didn't show up tonight to answer to why he thinks (he clinic coming to Pleasantville was a good idea."
“Denny Levinson said this project wasn't appropriate for the landscape they want for Atlantic City, but what about Pleasantville?” he asked. “I have a lot of respect for what the John Brooks faculty is doing. But the project does not deserve to be where they want it to be.”
Resident Jerome Page, a local school board member, pleaded with the board to listen to the residents.
“We're standing here tonight saying you can make it right by voting this down tonight,” he said prior to the vote.
Resident Curtis Conwell, of Harrison Avenue, said what the city really needs is a grocery store.
According to a public notice distributed recently to neighbors within 200 feet of the Pleasantville Shopping Center week, the facility would offer services including "medical care, counseling, treatment and the dispensing of prescription medicines, including without limitation, methadone and similar medicines." The property is owned by Apple Farm LLC.
An outpatient medical office facility is considered a permitted use in the the area's zoning, the letter reads.
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