Friday, July 19, 2024
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Medical Zoning Revised, Amid Methadone Clinic Concerns

Cookeville City Council voted unanimously Thursday to amend the zoning code, clarifying the rules for where certain medical facilities, including methadone clinics, could locate.

But after the vote, multiple council members made it clear that they do not want a methadone facility in Cookeville.

Mayor Laurin Wheaton said the city’s current zoning rules were too restrictive and considered discriminatory under federal law. Attorney Danny Rader said a review of the previous ordinance did find some “deficiencies.”

“What we’re looking at for the city of Cookeville is what’s the best thing for the city of Cookeville with respect to not just this use, but broader uses, but the same kind of traffic and other things like that,” Rader said. “Because the law doesn’t allow the city to discriminate against methadone clinics as a user under the A.D.A or the R.A. (Recovery Act). But the city can have and should have broad restrictions on high traffic volume issues or distributors of controlled substances. In this case, with respect to methadone specifically, that’s not really what this change is about.”

Rader added that a methadone clinic could not be located in Cookeville without a provider going through the state to determine if such a clinic is needed here.

“Same if you wanted to open an emergency room, a standalone emergency room, or you wanted to open a new hospital in the community, you have to go get that,” Rader said.

The zoning change approved Thursday night creates a new use, called “regional medical services.” Community Development Director Jon Ward said that covers multiple types of health care facilities, including surgery, dentistry, chiropractic, and osteopathic services. The code sets out specific rules concerning where such facilities can be located, access to roads, rules on loitering, waiting areas and licensing.

Cedar Recovery challenged the city’s rules on methadone clinics earlier this year, resulting in the changes.

“We had some issues that were criticized with the application to change the ordinance,” Rader said. “And we looked at those carefully, looked at some case law on it, and decided that it was appropriate to make some changes. We worked to make broader changes and create this new, broader use, the regional medical services use with the restrictions that are appropriate to the broader use, considering things like traffic and other issues that relate to these broader uses.”

Cedar Recovery Chief Strategy Officer Paul Trivette said the firm does want to open a clinic at 201 North Oak Avenue, adjacent to Cookeville Regional. He said the need in the region is great.

Following the council’s approval of the zoning change, Council Member Eric Walker urged Cedar Recovery officials to look elsewhere.

“I don’t feel like Cookeville is the right place for that type of treatment,” Walker said. “We’re not a big city. In 20 years from now, that may be a different discussion, but as of right now, I think Cookeville needs to worry about taking care of Cookeville, taking care of its surrounding partners. The idea that we become a regional hub for this, I don’t think the community wants that. There’s been a lot of discussion amongst this in the community, and I would just encourage you guys to hear that. From my perspective, I don’t think this community wants a methadone clinic in its community.”

Elijah Willis spoke during the public hearing. As the director for Next Step for Life, Willis said council members do not understand how those dealing with addiction would travel to Cookeville to take advantage of a methadone clinic. Willis said he knows because he did it at a similar facility in Knoxville.

“You’ll fight like hell to keep this hell out of Cookeville,” Willis said. “You have no idea what you’re about to open up. People are going to travel far and wide.”

Cedar Recovery Medical Director Stephen Lloyd disagreed.

“As far as bringing people with addiction issues into Cookeville and Putnam County, I got news for you, you already know this, they’re already here,” Lloyd said. “And so we’re talking about providing this in a way that helps them find a path to meaningful recovery. It’s not a sin, it’s not trading one drug for another. And it’s about providing help for the people of Putnam County and surrounding areas that need it without driving long distances. And that’s a fact.”

Six public hearings set for June 6. That includes the rezoning of property at 1331 South Maple Avenue as well as property at State Street and Bybee Avenue. Another hearing would close, abandon, and declare as surplus property undeveloped right-of-way at Park Street at North Willow Avenue.

Council appointed Danny Rader and Andrew Binkley to another term on the Putnam County Library Board of Trustees. Each will serve an additional three years. Three of the seven board members are appointed by the City of Cookeville.