In its fourth meeting over four months, the Voorhees Township Planning Board met Oct. 14 for a virtual session to discuss an application by Affinity Healthcare Group Voorhees for an opioid addiction treatment center at 200 West Somerdale Road.
Ironically, in the fourth hour of the meeting, the board unanimously voted 9 to 0 to deny the application because of various concerns and outstanding questions.
Board member Mario DiNatale, in his motion to deny the application, said his decision was based on the fact that the center is not a permitted use in the prescribed zone for which Affinity applied.
“In the applicant’s own testimony … they distinguished this medical use as clinical. So it’s a clinic” said DiNatale. “And what further delineated this from any other medical office that I’ve been to … is their office hours.”
Affinity’s application described the proposed center as a medical office that would dispense methadone and other medications to most patients between 5 and 9:30 a.m. each day. DiNatale believes it is more like a clinic, a use permitted only in specific zones of Voorhees Township. Affinity had stated it might expect to see approximately 250 patients in a single day.
“We are very specific in Voorhees as [our] solicitor pointed out, if it’s not specifically pointed out as an approved use, it’s a forbidden use,” DiNatale noted. “We do have other sections in town that permit clinics. If we didn’t have that it’s a different story, but we do have that.”
Board member Troy Brocco said during his vote that he was uncomfortable with the proposed treatment center not operating as a traditional medical office. Brocco said he felt there was too much speculation about how many patients would visit the site daily.
Program sponsor Ronald Martin had testified the location could expect approximately 200 to 275 clients a day, and manage as many as 600. But during the third meeting of the application, he cited a facility in Virginia that typically sees only about 80 patients per day.
Board member Jason Ravitz also voted to deny Affinity’s motion, citing the fact that, in his opinion, Martin’s testimony was unhelpful.
“With all due respect to Mr. Martin, he did his application, as far as I’m concerned, more harm than good,” Ravitz explained. “His testimony was very evasive, borderline not credible in general.”
Board Chair Ron Schwenke agreed. He also said that since the applicant referred to the proposed location as a clinic numerous times in planning board meetings, he agreed with DiNatale’s assertion that such a facility should be located in an area approved for clinic use.
Affinity’s lawyer said during his final portion of the Oct. 13 meeting that the treatment center is a medical issue, so it belongs in the permitted zone.
Board members and professionals had also noted concerns regarding lighting on the site, circulation and parking, since the most recent site plan for the area with the application was from 1984 and did not appear to be a final, signed copy. The board also said changes have been made to the area since the site plan was last edited.
Residents also spoke during the meeting’s public comment regarding the application, with all but one requesting it be denied for various reasons.
Resident David Glowacki said he had concerns regarding the number of parking spots available for patients at the proposed facility, while resident Erica Casella testified she was concerned about the proposed center’s close proximity to Osage Elementary School.
“I live here with my husband and my two daughters,” she noted. “We moved to Voorhees eight years ago, and we own our property in the Kirkwood section of Voorhees, and my daughter attends Osage school. We saved every penny we had because we really wanted to move here because of the school district and because it was a clean, safe, really desirable place to live.”
Martin said during a previous meeting that Affinity had determined “it was not going to be an issue” that the facility would be approximately 1,500 feet from an elementary school.