Panel tables substance abuse facility permit

MARIETTA – Though the Marietta Planning Commission tabled the decision on a permit that would allow a residential substance abuse treatment facility on Fifth Street, proponents and citizens were given opportunities to voice their opinions about the proposed site during the Planning Commission’s bi-monthly meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The Washington County Behavioral Health Board, which purchased a property at 812 Fifth St. in July, laid out its plans for operating an in-patient substance abuse treatment facility while nearby residents expressed concern over the plans and how they were informed.

Around three dozen individuals packed into the small Washington County commissioners meeting room on Second Street, with around a dozen people speaking out on both sides of the argument for and against the proposal.

Many nearby residents felt upset they had first read about the plan in the newspaper after the health board had already purchased the property, said Pamela Russell, who owns a house next to the proposed site.

“(The plan) was unbeknownst to everyone in the neighborhood. Maybe if we had been approached and asked ‘Can we work with you on this?’ it might have been looked at better,” she said.

David Browne, executive director of the Washington County Behavioral Health Board, said it was never his intent to sneak the project into the neighborhood.

“That’s why I’m here today, talking about our plan,” he said.

Board member Larry Hall, with the help of Jonathan Lee, president and CEO of Signature Health, explained how the facility would work.

The facility would accept patients who chose to be there, who had already gone through detox and who would be monitored around the clock.

Signature Health, which has expressed an interest in running the facility, operates similar facilities in northern Ohio, said Lee.

“(The facilities) fit well into a residential neighborhood because we are good neighbors … There won’t be dogs barking, people coming and going, lights on at all hours of the night,” he said.

When Browne reiterated later in the meeting that they would be ideal neighbors, he was met with guffaws from the crowd.

Representatives from L&P Services, which provides local outpatient counseling and treatment services, were in attendance to oppose the plan, saying that not enough information was available and that the facility would attract drug pushers in the neighborhood.

“It shames me that L&P is here feeding fear to the people,” responded Browne.

Despite all the comments, no decision was made Wednesday on whether the board would be granted a permit to operate as a sanitarium.

Planning Commission member Chip Wilson said the board needed to be sure it could move forward with the facility before a decision could be made on the permit.

“I’m asking you to do due diligence of a feasibility study,” he said.

The board needs to highlight what changes it will have to make to the building for it to pass building code inspection for such a facility and further ensure those changes are within its budget, said Wilson.

Browne asked for a month to get the studies together, so the board’s request for a sanitarium permit was tabled until the Planning Commission meets Oct. 1 at 1:30 p.m.