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Town approves meth clinic zoning

Jonesborough officials moved one step closer this week to determining which properties in the town would be zoned TF-1, an overlay zone that would allow methadone clinics or substance abuse facilities.
Planning Commission members approved the selection of a few commercial lots near the county jail, including the pharmacy and Laundromat in front of the Justice Center. Owners of the parcels were made aware of the selection. Final approval rests with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“The criticism has been that by doing this we are inviting these facilities,” Town Attorney Jim Wheeler said at the commission meeting.
In an April 13 BMA meeting, Alderman Jerome Fitzgerald said he saw creating the zone as allowing these facilities easier access to Jonesborough. He was the dissenting vote against creating the zone, saying that other towns have banned such facilities by not creating a zone to allow them.
In the meeting, Fitzgerald refused to tell which towns had been successful at zoning the clinics out, but said he would later inform Wheeler.
“I’ve been practicing law for 20 years and I couldn’t find any precedent for zoning these out,” Wheeler said. “There may be a community that attempted it, but if it was challenged and deemed unconstitutional, then there would be no ordinance and the clinic would be allowed to stay.”
After the ordinance was struck down, the town could go back and repass another to zone the clinics into a certain area, but the current clinic would be grandfathered in, allowing it to stay despite the newer ordinance.
“I was told I’d get a visit (from Fitzgerald), but I did not,” Wheeler said.
Despite the fact that in the past, the Town zoned out adult businesses, that cannot be done with treatment facilities, Wheeler said.
By presenting studies on the negative effects of adult businesses, and by arguing that there are those types of businesses in Johnson City and Washington County that are close enough to Jonesborough, the Town was able to avoid creating a zone for those businesses.
That was “with some risk,” Wheeler said, adding there is a “major difference” between that argument and trying to zone out methadone or substance abuse clinics.
“The risk here is much greater,” he said. “There’s nothing we could point to.”
The clinics are looked at like medical facilities, and Jonesborough does allow those already.
What Alderman Fitzgerald was advocating was to do nothing,” said Alderman Chuck Vest, also a member of the planning commission. “The Town is trying to protect its citizens. Doing nothing is a dangerous option.”
Vest’s main concern with the properties, he said, was that they were the “gateway into our Town.”
But one advantage of choosing those properties is they are valuable, and would cost a clinic “an arm and a leg” to acquire the land or buildings, Wheeler said. Their proximity to the Justice Center, and 11-E and its traffic make them high value properties. Both law firms and Washington County would be interested in acquiring those quickly, he said.
Another advantage is the properties are located close to law enforcement, which could be a safer choice, officials said.
“The biggest issue is how close it is to residential areas and schools,” Alderman and planning commission member Terry Countermine said.
Wheeler said the Town also looked at its industrial area, but because of Jonesborough’s small geographic size, they are also located next to residential areas.
The Planning Commission approved the selection and the BMA will take up the final decision at its May meeting.