HAVERHILL — The city has given up its fight to prevent a methadone dispensary from opening in a busy commercial area on the Plaistow, N.H. border. Methadone is a synthetic drug that is used to treat addicts suffering from heroin and other opiate withdrawal.
At an emergency court hearing late Friday in Newburyport Superior Court, a judge advised the city it would likely lose the case be forced to pay substantial monetary damages to Spectrum Health Systems. The nonprofit health care provider plans to open the clinic at 100 Plaistow Road as soon as this week.
According to an agreement between Spectrum and Haverhill reached at Friday’s court hearing, the city’s building inspector will give the company a certificate to open the clinic no later than noon today.
City Solicitor William Cox said it is his understanding that Spectrum has an agreement with Massachusetts public health officials that it will open the clinic by Thursday.
Friday’s court hearing was the same day Haverhill learned that another nonprofit health care provider was granted one of 20 provisional state licenses to operate a medical marijuana dispensary on Hale Street near the city’s downtown.
Residents and elected officials in Haverhill and Plaistow opposed the clinic and its location in a commercial area packed with restaurants and other businesses.
In recent weeks, the Plaistow Board of Selectmen voted to oppose the clinic and Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said he was against the location. Resident opposition included an online petition signed by more than 250 people.
In August, Spectrum began renovating the former Children’s Learning Center day care for the clinic. It requested an occupancy permit from the city last month to open, but Building Inspector Richard Osborne denied the request on zoning grounds.
Osborne said at the time that he granted Spectrum a building permit to begin renovating the site last summer based on information from the company that it planned to use the building for business and education above grade 12. He said he learned only after granting the building permit that Spectrum planned to use the building as a clinic for “health care services including drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation.”
The Plaistow Road property is in a commercial highway zone in which “drug or alcohol rehabilitation centers/rehabilitation centers and health care services” are not allowed, according the city’s zoning code.
Spectrum countered that is not required to follow the city’s zoning regulations or apply for a special permit from the City Council to open the clinic because the company is a non-profit educational corporation.
”The Dover Amendment exempts education programs like Spectrum’s from limitations imposed by zoning ordinances,” reads a letter from attorney Paul Holtzman of the Krokidas & Bluestein law firm to the city.
The Dover Amendment is a state law that prohibits zoning ordinances from regulating the use of land or structures for educational purposes on land owned or leased by non-profit educational corporations.
According to the company’s proposal, 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.
Spectrum filed a emergency injunction Wednesday asking a judge to order Haverhill to issue the company an occupancy certificate. Judge Richard Welch affirmed Spectrum’s position on the matter and advised the city it would likely lose the case and face “a sizable judgement.”
The city of Pittsfield recently paid Spectrum $100,000 to settle a lawsuit when that city tried to stop a clinic there. The company operates multiple outpatient clinics throughout New England.
Spectrum agreed to several conditions in exchange for the occupancy permit and dropping its lawsuit against the city.
The conditions include:
The hours of dispensing methadone will be 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The clinic’s days and hours of operation will generally be Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By today, Spectrum will submit a sketch to the city showing the location and number of parking spaces on the site.
Before opening, Spectrum must install video monitoring systems inside and outside the building. It also must store the video and make it available to Haverhill police upon request.
Spectrum shall have a minimum of two onsite security guards.
The company shall assign a designee to meet quarterly with local police to discuss operation of the facility.
Spectrum shall work with local police and the building inspector to adequately illuminate the exterior of the facility.
The company agrees to ask patients to access the facility from Plaistow Road (Route 125).
Spectrum must allow building inspector to inspect the premises at reasonable times to evaluate compliance with the conditions.
If traffic or parking problems occur, Spectrum agreed to consider staggered scheduling of its program.