East Kensington neighbors appeal Kensington Hospital methadone plan

Members of the East Kensington Neighbors Association have filed an appeal of the zoning board’s decision last month to allow Kensington Hospital to move its methadone-treatment operation into a vacant building at the corner of Front and Diamond streets.

Kensington Hospital needed a special exception to use the building, which is zoned CMX-2, as a medical office. It also sought a minor dimensional variance for a portion of the elevator structure that will rise above the 38-foot height limit. The zoning board approved both variances on the condition that EKNA’s name be added to a community partnership agreement developed between Kensington Hospital and the Norris Square Civic Association, which supports the methadone-treatment plan.

Members of EKNA, which had voted to oppose the clinic in an earlier meeting, were more interested in stopping the center from opening than negotiating matters of its operation. Much of the argument about the new center, which is about a block from the current treatment center that is housed in Kensington Hospital, was about the number of patients it would treat. The current center has around 160 patients. The new center would have capacity for 300 patients, though the center’s operators say they don’t expect the number of patients to spike.

The notice of appeal was filed Friday by EKNA’s attorney, Jordan Rushie.

Rushie said on Saturday that he doesn’t believe the applicant met the legal standard for the special exception granted by the zoning board.

In the zoning code, a special exception is a lower bar to meet than a variance. An applicant seeking a special exception is supposed to show evidence that the use wouldn’t be a detriment to its neighborhood in a number of specific ways, which include overcrowding, congestion, and straining public facilities, among others. After that evidence is shown, the burden of proof is on objectors to show that the use is likely “to cause a detrimental impact on the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood exceeding that which normally might be expected from the proposed use.” In seeking a variance, applicants must show that the zoning of their property represents an undue hardship.

According to Rushie, the patient load at the new center—presuming the clinic maxes out at 300 patients per day—would be “too much of a burden on East Kensington.” He also said that Kensington Hospital hadn’t shown why it couldn’t expand its methadone-treatment operation at its existing location.

“It’s not that anybody’s opposed to methadone users per se,” Rushie said. “It’s this many at this location.”

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