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Appellate court overturns Fayette County denial of new methadone clinic

Paul Peirce
| Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 5:03 p.m.
Polaris Renewal Services, located along Route 51 South in Perry Township photographed on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.
Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review
Polaris Renewal Services, located along Route 51 South in Perry Township photographed on Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

A state appellate court Tuesday reversed a Fayette County judge's recent decision to deny a proposed methadone clinic for drug addicts at a former medical office in North Union Township.

A three-judge Commonwealth Court panel sharply rebuked county Judge Joseph M. George's June 28 decision affirming a 2016 decision by the county zoning board to deny Polaris Renewal Services Inc.'s application for a special zoning exception. The company wants to open a clinic at a former medical office on the 2200 block of University Drive, north of Uniontown.

The county decided the clinic would create on-site parking problems and traffic backups at the Route 119 intersection.

Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler in her opinion was particularly critical of the zoning board's evidence that the proposed clinic would “adversely affect the health, safety and welfare of the surrounding area, specifically due to the traffic.”

“Neither the board or Fay Penn (Economic Development Council, which also objected to the clinic) cites a single part of the record to support this bald conclusion,” Ceisler wrote.

Ceisler noted Polaris promised to create 38 parking spots at the clinic, 20 more than the county ordinance requires. An aerial photograph of the intersection that opponents claimed would cause a “bottleneck” is not supported by evidence, she said.

She said the photograph submitted by opponents showed only four cars passing through “northbound while separated by several car lengths.”

“The record contains no traffic study for the intersection. The trial court's reliance on (the photograph) is particularly problematic given the questionable relevance and reliability of the photograph,” the decision stated.

Ceisler also was critical of testimony from the owner of a nearby business who opposed the clinic plan because of supposed traffic problems. However, the same businessman didn't object when a Speedway gas station was built at the same intersection, the judge said.

Polaris, which operates numerous drug treatment clinics in Pennsylvania, has a clinic in Perryopolis, Fayette County. It proposes the new site would serve up to 300 patients.

After the 2015 closure of another methadone clinic, Addiction Specialists Inc, in North Union, Polaris said its Perryopolis clinic absorbed approximately 400 new patients, according to the court documents.

Polaris claims its second clinic would ease traffic issues at its Perryopolis clinic.

“We conclude that the trial court's finding that the clinic would adversely affect the health, safety and welfare of the community because of increased traffic is unsupported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the trial court,” Ceisler wrote in the 12-page opinion.

Fayette County officials could not be reached for comment on whether they plan an appeal.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860, ppeirce@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.

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