Pleasantville’s business district cannot be the “dumping ground” for a methadone clinic, Mayor Jesse Tweedle said Wednesday.
“This was like a slap in the face, and we’re not going to turn the other cheek,” he said of a plan to relocate the majority of John Brooks Recovery Center’s outpatient services from the Atlantic City Tourism District to a shopping plaza off the Black Horse Pike.
Tweedle, who sits on the Planning Board that will consider a change-of-use application for the facility next week, said he’d been in discussions to relocate the addiction treatment facility for the past five years. The last time he’d discussed the issue was about a year ago, he said, and since then the Pleasantville Shopping Center was chosen for the location over Tweedle’s prior objections.
Having the facility in such a visible location could detract from efforts to reinvigorate Pleasantville’s economy, he said.
“Every day, we try to fight to change the perception of Pleasantville,” he said.
While the outpatient center would be a permitted use, Tweedle said the Planning Board has to consider whether it would benefit the city. The mayor has been inundated with calls from residents, he said, many of them opposed to the facility.
“I think it will eventually end up in the courts,” he said. “We don’t have any recourse but for the public to come forward.”
Relocating the Brooks center, which is located off Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, from the Tourism District has been proposed for years. In recent months, that plan has come closer to fruition with the creation of a “single point of entry” system that funnels those in need of assistance to resources in Atlantic City or back to the communities they came from.
On Monday, city and county officials confirmed the center was in negotiations to move some of its operations to Pleasantville with the support of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. A smaller presence would remain in Atlantic City for the estimated 300 residents who take part in the center’s methadone program, while its inpatient component may move to Hamilton Township.
Methadone is used to treat addiction by weaning users off narcotics such as heroin. Drug overdoses have steadily increased across the region in recent years, with the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office reporting 83 overdose deaths last year.
According to a public notice distributed this week to neighbors within 200 feet of the Pleasantville Shopping Center, 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, representatives of which could not be reached for comment. Alan Oberman, Brooks’ executive director, declined to comment Wednesday but previously confirmed the Pleasantville Planning Board application.
County Executive Dennis Levinson said the Brooks center is in a difficult position. While the center provides a vital service to the community, he said, few municipalities would welcome such facilities. Levinson said he’s even received complaints about places that serve the developmentally disabled.
Levinson said he believes the Pleasantville location would allow clients of the Brooks center to come and go with little disruption, as it’s in a commercial area with easy access to a bus route.
A previous proposal would have sited the 20,000-square-foot Brooks outpatient facility off Delilah Road in Egg Harbor Township.
Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough said he met with the CRDA on the plan, but nothing ever came of it. While the township indicated that location wasn’t ideal due to the lack of nearby public transportation, he said he wouldn’t necessarily oppose having a facility like it in his municipality.
“We’ve been the recipients of the landfill and other things,” he said. “We certainly would have some serious discussion of how any of that would be handled.”
Linda Peyton, Pleasantville’s business administrator, said the facility would complicate efforts to revitalize the city. Those efforts were already set back by the lack of funding through the state’s Urban Enterprise Zone program, she said.
“We’re looking for ways to improve economic development here,” she said. “We don’t see (the Brooks facility) as something that would help attract other businesses.”
City Council President Lincoln Green Sr. said the city has been trying to attract a supermarket to the location for some time. He said he’s concerned the Brooks center would hurt the existing businesses that are already trying to hold onto what business they have.
“If that comes in there, it will kill the whole process,” he said. “People will move out of there like rats.”
Tweedle said the Brooks center previously discussed opening mobile units on Franklin Boulevard and near the Atlantic County Animal Shelter on Old Turnpike. Both proposals fell through for funding and other reasons.
Having the facility in the Pleasantville Shopping Center would represent “several steps backward” for Pleasantville, Tweedle said, but he wouldn’t rule out having the facility in a less prominent location.
“This is an excellent program,” he said. “We’d welcome it with open arms. But not in my business district.”
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