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Town leaders consider zoning options for methadone clinics

In what they’re calling a “preemptive move,” Jonesborough officials are looking to zone property near the county jail to allow methadone clinics and substance abuse treatment facilities, although there have been no direct inquiries about such a facility coming to town.
Jonesborough Mayor Kelly Wolfe has said the move to examine the zoning regarding these types of facilities was spurred by Washington County’s move to do the same, not because Jonesborough is going to see a substance abuse facility set up shop within town limits.
“We have to have land zoned somewhere if they do want [to establish one],” said Alderman Mary Gearhart. “There was discussion about it, but no one has come to the town and said, ‘You have to offer a property.’”
By having a specific zone set up in advance of any requests, the Town will then be able to control where a substance abuse clinic would go if there ever was a request.
The Town has taken the first step, a first reading, in creating a treatment facility-specific zoning of “TF-1” in its last Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. Placement of the zone will also have to undergo several readings at future BMA meetings.
“That’s what will be offered in the rezoned area,” Gearhart said. “It’s a preemptive move, so we could locate it where people might be a little more comfortable with it.”
In late 2009, this zoning issue came before the BMA, and with it came a firestorm of rumors that Jonesborough was definitely going to see a methadone clinic or substance abuse facility set up within its limits.
“That just started the ball rolling,” Gearhart said. “People were scared to death.”
The property that was first selected as a possible zone – off Boones Creek Road (354) and around Judge Vines Road – also received a lot of opposition.
Gearhart said she informed those town residents they were welcome to come to that month’s BMA meeting and express their opinions.
But at that November BMA meeting, Wolfe removed the item dealing with establishing the zoning from the agenda, saying the BMA needed more time to construct a plan regarding the facilities.
After that, Gearhart said she met with Town Administrator Bob Browning and Town Attorney Jim Wheeler to find another solution to the zoning issue.
“We had five or six suggestions of locations, and the three of us came up with some land on North Cherokee Street,” Gearhart said. “We wanted some place near the jail.”
Some property suggested happens to be owned by Mayor Wolfe.
“Mine was recommended to be rezoned, but the only reason I would allow it is because I have no desire to see it come to the Town,” Wolfe said. “If we don’t zone mine, that’s just fine.”
Choosing property by the jail seems to make the most sense for the safety and comfort of Jonesborough residents, officials said.
“Where would it have the least impact? That was the logic,” Wolfe said. “Or a bigger argument was, where would it do the least amount of harm to citizens? The logic was, you’ve got the Jonesborough police, the Johnson City police and State Troopers coming in and out of there all the time.”
“It probably would be the best observed and safest to have that use allowed there if you have to have it somewhere,” he said. “It makes sense.”
Earlier this year, the board approved the first reading of a creation of a “Treatment Facility Overlay Zone” or TF-1, which would allow the clinics and abuse treatment facilities. By doing so, the facilities will only be able to come in where that zone exists, rather than in an M-2 zone, which was the previous situation.
There are only two parcels of M-2 in the entire Town limits. Town officials have previously pointed out that more than two parcels of land must be made available, since the Town cannot discriminate against the clinics.