SOMERS POINT — Fear gripped West Cedar Avenue residents recently after an 89-year-old homeowner was attacked and sexually assaulted in her home.
While a 27-year-old Vineland man, Marvin Sherwood, has been arrested and charged in connection with that particular incident, residents are fed up with problems in their neighborhood and are placing blame for recurring issues on a methadone clinic directly across from their homes.
The latest incident is not believed to be related to the clinic, but the clinic’s continuing presence angers residents and is prompting city officials to explore ways to force the clinic from the neighborhood.
Adam Kegley, the chief executive officer of Addiction Recovery Systems, said he does not agree that patients visiting the facility should be fully blamed for problems in the neighborhood.
“I am disappointed at the inference that all the crime can be attributed to my patients,” Kegley said. “Our patients want to get better from the disease of addiction. I don’t think there is a definitive link between the crime and all our patients.”
The clinic has occupied buildings in the Point Commons office complex along Bethel Road for the past 10 years.
Addiction Recovery Systems has operated the facility since March 2005 and offers outpatient addiction treatment for opiates through counseling and the administration of medications like methadone and Suboxone.
Methadone is used to treat addiction to more addictive narcotics, such as heroin. A medically supervised dose is administered daily as a substitute for the more powerful drug. Treatment can last for months or even years.
On one side of West Cedar Avenue are six nicely maintained homes that, other than a commercial sign business located along Bethel Road, have an appearance similar to neighborhoods elsewhere in the area — quiet, causal and in good condition.
Across the narrow street and in view from the front windows of the homes is the Point Commons complex, which has five buildings and counts a dentist, cardiologist and other doctors among its tenants.
Also in sight — plus very audible — are the patients who arrive at the clinic for treatment six days a week starting at 6 a.m., according to residents.
John Mignogna has lived on West Cedar Avenue for about 10 years and was aware of the clinic and other medical offices when he bought his home.
He said that as the clinic has grown in size, so too have problems with noise, traffic and the frequency of crimes.
“It’s been a variety of little things that have culminated into major things,” Mignogna said.
Mignogna is forced to do little things like back his car into his driveway since backing out onto the constricted West Cedar Avenue is impossible when parking from the medical complex spills over onto the adjacent street. He equiped his home with a security system after it was burglarized in April 2009 while his grandmother lived with him while receiving hospice care. He doesn’t believe there is a sense of safety on his street.
“We basically lock ourselves in,” Mignogna said. “That’s how I feel on this street. We are prisoners in our own homes.”
He has attempted to sell his home for the past year and said he has had potential buyers shy away because of the clinic.
Somers Point police since March 1 have filed 16 reports related to issues on West Cedar Avenue and at the Point Commons complex, though only five, including the August attack, were in relation to a criminal offense.
In late April, a fire at the Captain’s Quarters condominiums at the end of the street was caused by the cooking of an illegal substance that was likely methamphetamine, police said. In August, two separate complaints were made for damaged property.
Martin Leventon has lived on the street for a dozen years and can see the entrance into the clinic from his kitchen window. He and his son, William, have long been involved with a push to have the clinic removed. He said the effort has included writing letters to three governors and also residents meeting in the office of Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson.
“We’ve done everything humanly possible,” Leventon said, adding that past city officials failed to take any definitive action.
Current city officials are aware of residents’ concerns, but it’s unclear what, if anything, they can do. The clinic and its work are a permitted use on the property.
Council President Sean McGuigan spoke out publicly against the facility’s location during a council meeting Aug. 26 while responding to a comment from a resident and visited West Cedar Avenue residents on Sept. 1 with Councilman Ralph Triboletti.
“It doesn’t belong in that neighborhood,” McGuigan said during the meeting.
The city has asked Solicitor James E. Franklin II to research any legal action the municipality can take to spur the clinic to move, and on Thursday the City Council introduced an ordinance that would prohibit parking on the south side of West Cedar Avenue that borders the medical complex.
McGuigan said the ordinance will alleviate a safety problem and allow for further enforcement of city codes. He declined to discuss any legal action the city is considering and expects to establish a dialogue with the clinic.
Kegley said he would welcome conversations with the city, even if the talks touched on the clinic’s relocation.
“I would love to work with Mayor (Jack) Glasser and the (City) Council to try to come up with some alternative solutions for this situation,” Kegley said.
His company operates five facilities in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Virginia. In addition to the Somers Point clinic, which he said serves about 300 patients, the company has a facility on Route 9 in Cape May Court House.
Kegley believes his line of work is sometimes unfairly criticized.
“I understand that there may be people uncomfortable with what we do, but it is a necessary service and we are proud of our track record,” Kegley said.
Mignogna said he recognizes the rights of the clinic, but he and his neighbors ultimately want a resolution that results in the relocation of the clinic from a residential area.
“It’s a shame and we are trying to be patient and understanding,” Mignogna said. “But our patience is wearing thin.”
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