By MIKE WILLIAMS
The Pulaski Planning Commission will get another crack at making a recommendation in the Mainspring Recovery Center zoning case.
Pulaski Town Council voted Tuesday night to send the matter back to the commission to consider conditions offered by Mainspring in an effort to address some concerns expressed by citizens at two public hearings on the issue.
Mainspring Recovery Center is requesting a Special Exception to town zoning to allow construction of an in-patient drug treatment facility at 2460 Lee Highway – the site next to LewisGale Hospital Pulaski where New River Internal Medicine was formerly located.
Mainspring is seeking to create a 50-bed capacity, in-patient residential program for individuals with a substance use disorder diagnosis. The facility would serve clients 18 years old and older from within a 60- to 70-mile radius and who are voluntarily admitting themselves to the facility.
Both the clinic facility and LewisGale Hospital are located in areas zoned R-1, Single Family Residential District.
It is anticipated by Mainspring that up to 50 jobs would be created at the facility.
The decision to send the matter back to the planners passed council on a 4-1-1 vote, with councilman Jamie Radcliffe casting the lone “no” vote and councilman Tyler Clontz abstaining due to a possible conflict of interest.
Sending the issue back to the planning commission will also give commissioners a second opportunity to make a recommendation to council on the question since, in their first attempt, their meeting ended with confusion surrounding the final vote.
At the heart of the confusion was Vice Chairman Janet Jonas’ participation.
Jonas and her family recently moved to Maine, but still maintain a residence in Pulaski. She attempted to participate in the planning meeting via the internet, however, the commission’s other members were not able to hear her comments.
The end result was confusion over the planners’ final vote on whether to recommend to town council approval or denial in the zoning case.
An attorney for Mainspring noted the confusion surrounding the planners’ vote and told council Tuesday that sending the issue back to the planning commission would be “the most prudent” decision so the commission can discuss conditions and properly recommend to council either approval or denial.
She said the town’s own zoning ordinance requires the commission to submit to council a report and a clear recommendation.
She added that it is key, and that state law requires that “all can hear and be heard” in such a meeting. She said the result of the planners’ meeting the first time around did not provide a clear recommendation and was not in accordance with the town’s zoning ordinance.
She noted some of the conditions offered by Mainspring might address citizens’ concerns on security, staffing and licensing compliance, and that the planning commission could consider those in making their recommendation.
As they did before the planning commission, Mainspring officials spoke to council about their plans for the facility and the need for it in this region of Virginia.
Prior to their presentation, however, David Hagan – who leased the property to Mainspring – addressed council on the issue.
Hagan made it clear to council that the Mainspring facility would not be similar to the methadone clinic already in town. He said the lease forbids that and he would have nothing to do with such a facility.
Hagan said he found it strange that both the hospital and the proposed Mainspring facility are on property zoned R-1 for residential. He said he tried to work with the town’s former zoning official on getting the property zoned correctly to no avail.
He noted that the town had approved in 1993 a similar request by LewisGale for the same type of facility Mainspring is proposing.
“Obviously if we needed such a facility in 1993, we’ve certainly catapulted 300 to 400 times in the amount of drug problems in the country today,” Hagan stated.
Mainspring officials reviewed details on their proposal, which they first provided to the planning commission.
They spoke on the need in this region of the state for residential treatment facilities such as they are proposing for Pulaski and noted the fact Radford University and Virginia Tech are nearby and could be good sources for the health professionals that would be needed to staff the facility.
Mainspring is proposing a 3.5 level facility which means it would operate around the clock residential care with full professional support of nurses, counselors and recovery support specialists. Staff would do rounding on their patients every 30 minutes when they are in withdrawal management and every hour when not in withdrawal.
“So, there’s no ‘missing people.’ We have a strict schedule,” the Mainspring official told the planning commission in response to concerns expressed that patients might wonder off or escape into the surrounding residential neighborhoods.
She said the facility would be manned 24/7 with security cameras, staff monitoring and overnight security staff.
“Nobody leaves,” she said. “If someone leaves it’s because a family member comes and picks them up and takes them to a doctor’s appointment and brings them back.
“We take extra measures to make sure that we are a good partner with the community,” she added.
Another Mainspring official said that when a patient is admitted, discharge planning begins – addressing concerns over what happens to patients after treatment.
He added there is no loitering around a facility such as Mainspring is proposing, and people won’t just be discharged out onto the street.
He noted that two facilities in the region that had been opened recently are now full, which he said speaks to the level of need in the area.
It was noted that while the population in this region is lower than other areas of Virginia, the number of drug overdoses is higher.
The proposed facility in Pulaski would be the second for Mainspring who is currently constructing a 75-bed facility in Dumfries, Va.
The average length of stay for a patient is 21-30 days with some staying as long as 45 days. Mainspring expects two to five admissions per day.
Company officials addressed citizen concerns over traffic increasing in the area if the facility is allowed. They said there would be far less traffic than there was when the facility was a medical office building.
“We don’t have people coming and going all the time,” the official stated.
Eight citizens addressed council Tuesday – all in opposition to the special exception proposal.
Concerns expressed centered around traffic and security, the facility’s proximity to schools and the rehabilitation center across the street.
Jane Macadoo expressed concern over Mainspring’s having no prior experience in healthcare. She also cited concern over the facility’s plans to house three patients in one room, and the “perception problem” the town has now.
“This won’t help,” she stated.
Ernie Wallace noted he is concerned over Mainspring having an “absentee owner,” and their finding enough staff.
Sending the matter back to the planning commission will require a new round of public hearings by both the commission and town council.
Watch The Patriot for word on when those will be scheduled.