Council again tables Pulaski Medical expansion issue

Pulaski Town Council voted again Tuesday night to delay making a decision on a proposed expansion of the town’s methadone clinic, Pulaski Medical, LLC.

On Feb. 11, the Pulaski Planning Commission voted 3-1 to not recommend to council it approve a special exception request filed by Pulaski Medical, LLC which would allow for an expansion of its outpatient mental health and substance abuse clinic at 1006 E. Main Street.

Council’s decision Tuesday night to again table the issue came following presentations by Adam Marion, a vice president of Pulaski Medical’s parent company, Pinnacle Treatment Center, and Preston Lloyd, a Richmond attorney.

Also conveniently on hand for Tuesday’s meeting was a court reporter – apparently hired for the evening by Pinnacle to record the portion of Tuesday’s meeting surrounding Pulaski Medical’s expansion proposal.

After Marion addressed questions he said he had heard at an earlier meeting surrounding Pulaski Medical’s treatment of patients here, Lloyd addressed council.

An attorney with the Richmond law firm of Williams Mullen, Lloyd prefaced his remarks by trying to put council at ease over his presence at the meeting.

“When attorneys come in, a lot of people might see that as a signal that things are maybe turning into a more antagonistic direction,” Lloyd said. “That’s not the kind of attorney I am. I’m a land use attorney who works with applicants seeking to figure out how they can work with a community to find ways to accommodate the needs of a community, but also how they can advance the application they are seeking to be authorized by council.”

It is unclear whether members of council were put more at ease by Lloyd’s comment.

In his presentation, Lloyd noted Pulaski Medical had been a part of the Pulaski community for over 5 years, “helping the community deal with the devastating impact of opioid addiction by assisting those who suffer from addiction on the road to recovery… .”

Lloyd said Pulaski Medical greatly values its relationship with the town, and had worked diligently not only to fulfill its mission of helping those in need, but also to educate on its operations.

“Based on these efforts and the positive feedback we received prior to the planning commission’s meeting Feb. 11, we had every reason to believe that the commission would vote favorably on our application,” Lloyd said. “Yet, much to our surprise, some members did not vote, some did not show up, and some who had shown prior support voted against the application.”

At their Feb. 11 meeting, three members of the planning commission – Mayor David Clark, Linda Hall and Vice-Chairman Melissa Thomas – voted “aye” to a resolution not recommending approval of the special exception. Another member – Janet Jonas – voted “nay,” or against the resolution. Terry Hale Sr. abstained from voting, while Christopher Conner was absent.  Commission Chairman Kevin Meyer only votes in case of a tie vote.

Lloyd noted that while the planning commission recommendation is only advisory, “It highlighted the fact there are unique and important legal implications of this application that the town and council may not have considered previously.”

Lloyd said his clients (Pulaski Medical and Pinnacle) understand the town’s elected leaders must perform a vital role in evaluating land use decisions that are in the best interests of the town and its citizens.

He said Marion had summarized the critical need in this community for the services Pulaski Medical provides, and the professional manner in which the company’s facility operates to meet the need.

“In its federal lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, Pulaski County noted that ‘rampant overuse, abuse and addiction to prescription opioids … exists in Pulaski County …’ and that ‘the opioid epidemic is particularly devastating in Pulaski County’s community,’” Lloyd said.

Noting council has the authority to regulate land use through its zoning power, Lloyd said that power is “an important function and no doubt you take it seriously.

“However, this zoning power is subject to important limitations under Federal Law, which for the most part, trumps state law. This is one of those cases,” he continued.

Lloyd said everyone is familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Quoting from the act, Lloyd said, “No qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be … subjected to discrimination by a public entity.”

“This law goes far beyond requiring that handicap ramps be installed in public buildings,” Lloyd stated. “The anti-discrimination provision of the ADA prohibits zoning decisions by a locality that discriminate against drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, the clients of which are ‘qualified individuals with a disability’ by law, and there are federal cases throughout the U.S. that make this crystal clear.

“These cases show that, if local governments take action that adversely affect people suffering from opiate addiction, those local governments are violating federal statutes that expose them to liability,” Lloyd said.

In his prepared remarks, Lloyd added that Pulaski Medical also has due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions. Under those laws, he noted, the town cannot treat Pulaski Medical differently from any other entity that provides medical treatment.

“My client has demonstrated its commitment and desire to work with the town and to address concerns related to the expansion of programs at this facility, and we will continue to do so,” Lloyd said.  “We only ask that we be treated fairly under the law.

Lloyd concluded by saying, “We offer this context solely to help frame the legal issues at play here, which are unique given the nature of the protected class of patients that Pinnacle serves. It is our sincere hope that there will be no need to re-visit these legal issues.”

He noted the “important thing to keep in mind” is the application is for a “relatively modest expansion of the services that Pulaski Medical has been lawfully providing for many years.

“Granting the special exception application would be better for everybody – the locality, the patients, and the neighboring businesses.”

Due to the town’s zoning ordinance, the special exception must be approved before Pulaski Medical can move forward on a 6,099-square foot expansion that it says would create two additional spaces in which to provide its services.

The expansion is needed, according to Pulaski Medical, to accommodate an expected increase in its patient load from 600 to as many as 900.

Town Manager Shawn Utt told council they had been presented with “quite a bit of information” at the meeting, and he thought it appropriate – if council agreed – for him to meet with Town Attorney Spencer Rygas before council takes any action on the special exception request.

Councilman Joseph Goodman motioned that council table the special exception request to a “future meeting.” Council voted unanimously to do so.


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