UPDATE: Council approves expansion of methadone clinic on 4-3 vote as mayor breaks tie

UPDATE: Council approves expansion of methadone clinic on 4-3 vote as mayor breaks tie

Pulaski Town Council Tuesday evening voted to approve a request by Pulaski Medical for a Special Exception to town zoning laws – a move that will now allow for an expansion of the methadone clinic on East Main Street.

Pulaski Mayor David Clark cast the tie-breaking vote, and an ordinance allowing the expansion passed, 4-3.

Voting “yes” along with Clark were council members Brooks Dawson, Joseph Goodman and Tyler Clontz. Voting “no” were Greg East, Lane Penn and Joseph Radcliffe.

Tuesday’s vote brought to an end a long and sometimes devisive debate over the issue.

Pulaski Medical had months earlier sought a Special Exception to town zoning regulations to be able to expand their facility at 1006 East Main Street next to Shelor’s Pulaski Motor Mile auto dealership.

Pulaski Medical officials said they were seeking the right to expand to better serve a growing patient count from the present 600 patients to as many as 900.

Following the request last winter by Pulaski Medical, a joint public hearing on the issue was held by council and the Pulaski Planning Commission. It is the commission’s job to make a recommendation on such matters to council.

Following the hearing, the commission tabled the issue.

On Feb. 11, planners did take up the special exception request again and voted 3-1 to recommend to council that it not approve the Pulaski Medical request. At that meeting, Linda Hall, Melissa Thomas and Mayor Clark himself voted with the majority. Janet Jonas was the lone commissioner voting to recommend council approve the request. Terry Hale Sr. abstained from voting and Christopher Conner was absent for the meeting.  Commission Chairman Kevin Meyer only votes in case of a tie.

After receiving the commission’s recommendation not to approve the Special Exception, Council took up the issue again later in February and delayed making a decision.

At that meeting, however, representatives of Pulaski Medical’s parent company – Pinnacle Treatment Center – addressed council. Joining Pinnacle’s Vice President Adam Marion was Preston Lloyd, a Richmond attorney. Also on hand was a court reporter, apparently hired for the evening by Pinnacle to record the portion of the meeting regarding the Pulaski Medical expansion.

The appearance of the attorney and court reporter raised the spectre of possible legal action down the road should Pinnacle not get the decision from council it wanted.

From that point there has been back and forth meetings between Pinnacle and town officials and attorneys for both sides for the last few months.

Finally Tuesday the issue came to a head, with council going into closed session to consider an issue of “possible litigation,” which is allowed by the State Code.

Following the closed-door session, council emerged and a vote was held on the ordinance allowing the Special Exception and expansion.

With council split 3-3, the decision came down to Mayor Clark.

“This is one of those situations in which what we (council) are talking about and what the public is talking about is two very, very different things,” Clark said.

“As a town we have a very narrow task. We need to make a land use decision based on a zoning ordinance,” he continued.

“Our decision will be based on what we’re allowed to evaluate. An attempt to base our decision on anything beyond that would expose us to potential, expensive and very wasteful defense litigation and is an irresponsible use of public funds,” Clark said.

“Council has worked tirelessly to amass reserves to improve the financial condition of the town. Such an irresponsible decision could cost our town as much as a third of our annual real estate tax revenue. We would be doing what the public wants – which we do need to do as often as we can – but we would be doing it in the wrong forum. We would be basing it on facts and issues beyond which we’re legally allowed to, and reaching beyond what the federal and state governments say we are allowed to do.

“Since the federal and state governments have limited what we can do it’s really up to them to meet the public responsibility to take care of the things our citizens demand for safety of all.

“So my vote will be ‘yes,’” Clark stated.

The ordinance approved Tuesday provides Pulaski Medical with the Special Exception to zoning regulations it needed to expand.

The ordinance has eight conditions, most of which are the normal conditions pertaining to things such as parking, maintenance, inspections, etc.

Two conditions, however, are more directed to the clinic itself.

Condition One prohibits any further expansion at the clinic property.

Condition Two confines all activities of the clinic to the interior of the building, and states “no queuing of patients shall be permitted exterior to the building.”

Condition Two is important because a major complaint of citizens concerning the clinic is the past practice of patients occasionally lining up outside waiting for treatment.

Following the meeting, Lloyd said he and Marion – who both attended the meeting – said they could not make a comment Tuesday evening.

“We’re still going to evaluate where we go from here,” Lloyd said. “We’re pleased to have had the opportunity to interact with the council, and we are pleased that it went the way it did.”

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot