Township continuing to hear testimony regarding proposed OTP

Public participation is expected to be held at upcoming meeting

Residents of Voorhees Township have waited patiently as Affinity Healthcare Group Voorhees’ application for an opioid treatment center sat in limbo amid months of delays. 

A meeting regarding the 200 West Somerdale Road site was originally scheduled for Wednesday, March 11 but was postponed for more than four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The planning board held their first meeting regarding the application in July with a follow-up on Aug. 26. The board’s chairman, Ron Schwenke, said he anticipates the board will need at least two more meetings to review the application before they can take action. 

At the July 22 meeting, Stuart ‘Skip” Reale Jr, representing Affinity Healthcare Group Voorhees, stated he didn’t believe his client had to go before the board for approval. Reale said the state Department of Health requested an amendment to the outpatient program’s zoning permit issued in 2018 to include opioid treatment using methadone. However, according to Reale, the state has since indicated it no longer needs the amendment. 

“We really don’t need to be here. We’re not certain why we’re here in front of this board,” Reale said. 

Reale said Affinity wanted to provide the board and the public in attendance with information on what it is the healthcare company does and does not do.

“The point is that as we all sit here on our screens tonight, Dr. (Kenneth) Brown and Affinity can, in fact, open an outpatient behavioral treatment program, and Dr. Brown and his staff can treat any individual that walks through the door, for any affliction, including those suffering from any form of addiction, including opioid use disorder,” Reale said.

In response, Jason Ravitz, deputy mayor of Voorhees and a member of the planning board, questioned why the company filed an application in the first place. 

“If you believe you could open tomorrow, then why did you file an application,” Ravitz said.

Reale said Affinity submitted their application in an effort to be “good neighbors.” The company submitted their application prior to the state’s updated zoning guidelines. While the meeting is no longer technically necessary in terms of compliance with the Department of Health guidelines, representatives thought the meeting may be necessary to discuss and present the buildings intended use and operations. 

However, Board Solicitor Chris Norman explained the meeting was also necessary to ensure that the proposed business would be in compliance with the township’s zoning ordinances.

Later in the July meeting, board member Mario DiNatale said in his eyes, board members were not given ample time to review all of Affinity’s latest materials. DiNatale and fellow board members indicated they received materials in the mail the same day of the meeting, leaving little time for review. 

The application was subsequently revisited at the Aug. 26 meeting where a representative of Affinity testified that, although that an exact number could not be provided, the company anticipates potentially seeing 200 to 275 patients per day. 

Board members repeatedly asked how many persons would make daily visits to the location for treatment but were unable to be given an accurate answer. Board members therefore questioned parking availability at the site, as there are an estimated 79 spaces.

Although two virtual meetings have taken place, the public has not yet had its opportunity to comment. Thus far, the meetings consisted of presentations from the company’s representatives in which they’ve described the plans for the location.

According to extensive social media threads in local Voorhees Facebook community groups regarding the proposed business, residents are worried about the locations close proximity to residential zones less than a block away, as well as the nearby Osage Elementary School.

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 23 starting at 7 p.m., and the action date was extended to the end of October in anticipation of potentially needing another meeting for presentations.