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Denial of variance may force treatment center to close

In Philadelphia and its suburbs, zoning boards often operate under the radar. Their decisions on rezonings, conditional use permits, map overlays and other land use issues receive little publicity unless a decision threatens the economic well-being of another business. Such a dispute is just beginning in Easton, where the zoning board has denied a use variance request that may force an alcohol and drug treatment center to close.

The Northeast Treatment Center has operated in Easton for 21 years, but its future is now threatened by a redevelopment plan that calls for the renovation of the building into 28 high-end apartments. The treatment center thought that it had an easy solution: move to another building about three blocks away. Unfortunately, treatment centers are not permitted in the zoning district where the center's potential new home stands.

The center applied to the Easton Zoning Board for what is called a "use variance," which is an exception to the literal terms of the zoning ordinance. The variance would allow the center to operate in a zoning district that did not include treatment centers as either a permitted or conditional use. Unhappily for the center, the Easton Zoning Board denied the request at a recent meeting.

The meeting was attended by many people who live near the proposed new location for the center, and most of them voiced strong objections to the variance request because they were worried about the potentially adverse effect of having a drug treatment center in their neighborhood. The center can appeal the Board's decision, but its need for a new space will likely become critical before any appeal can be resolved.

The treatment center's problem typifies the experience of many similar entities, as many older buildings in the Philadelphia area face demolition or extensive renovation. Drug and alcohol treatment centers are never popular neighbors, and new or amended zoning ordinances directed toward encouraging residential development can threaten their very existence.

Anyone who is facing similar difficulties may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in real estate and land use matters. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide a helpful evaluation of the factual situation and the applicable laws and zoning regulations and can also suggest ways of dealing with neighborhood opposition.

Source: The Morning Call, "Zoning decision may force Easton drug & alcohol treatment center to close," Christina Tatu, Aug. 4, 2016

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