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Court Rules In Favor Of HowardCenter Drug Clinic

A state Environmental Court judge ruled in favor of a new South Burlington drug treatment clinic Tuesday after the South Burlington School District sued to keep it from opening.

The medically-assisted treatment facility (commonly known as a methadone clinic) is operated by HowardCenter, a non-profit mental health and substance abuse organization. The facility is part of HowardCenter’s expanded efforts to treat opiate addictions in Chittenden County and the surrounding area.

The South Burlington School District tried to block the clinic based on zoning regulations. They alleged that the city improperly granted HowardCenter a zoning permit for the clinic. The location for the clinic was previously a cardiologist’s office, and the school board alleged that opening a medically-assisted treatment clinic qualifies as a “change of use” that requires a study of impacts on traffic in the area.

In the decision from the Environmental Court, Judge Thomas Walsh said there was no change in use, as the clinic still qualifies as a “medical office” under the city’s zoning provisions.

“To treat the proposed methadone clinic differently from other medical office uses would be to consider the identity of the operator beyond the type of land use,” Walsh wrote. “We have specifically held that in considering land use applications the body administering the regulations should not consider the identity of the landowner.”

Walsh’s ruling means that the clinic is allowed to continue its operations, which started in September with approval from the court, without any additional zoning approval.

South Burlington’s middle school is located within a quarter mile of the clinic.

While its legal case was related to zoning issues, acting South Burlington School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Fitzgerald said in a Sept. 6 interview that the board was “disappointed in the HowardCenter’s decision to locate the clinic in such proximity to the school.”

Fitzgerald said in the interview that the school district moved its security personnel to the corner of the property closest to the clinic.