By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
Residents and business owners from a neighbourhood where a Richmond-based company has proposed to open a methadone clinic grilled City of London staff and a representative of the company Wednesday evening (Sept. 5) over concerns of how this could affect their community.
Ontario Addiction Treatment Centres has applied to the city for a zoning bylaw amendment that would allow it to set up a methadone clinic at 425 Wharncliffe Rd. and the public was invited to share their opinions on the application at a community information meeting at the Hillside Church.
Nearly 300 attendees packed the church, with more than a dozen people raising concerns such as how the proposed clinic will affect the safety of local children, why such a facility is needed in an area that already has a clinic, the possibility of property values dropping and allegations surrounding one of the company’s founders.
A number of people pointed to the problems one of the city’s largest methadone clinics, located on Dundas Street, experiences when it comes to drug use and other criminal activity around the facility.
With at least one day care centre in close proximity to the site where the clinic would be located, as well as a busy bus route used by children nearby, questions were asked about safety if similar drug-related problems pop up around the proposed clinic.
Sam Hosack, board chair for the Western Day Care Centre, which is located 300 metres from the proposed clinic site, asked city staff why day care centres weren’t included in a list of institutions, such as schools, arenas and libraries, that any clinic built in the city must be set back from by at least 300 metres.
“The only difference between schools and licensed day care centres is our children are more vulnerable and defenceless than the older school children,” he said. “It’s more difficult to educate and expect a kid not to pick up a dirty needle or eat a harmful pill or become a victim of any other risks that are associated with this clinic.”
City staff told the gathering, however, that including day care centres on the buffer zone list would prohibit any clinic from being built in London since there are so many care centres scattered across the city.
Hosack also said many parents are saying they will withdraw their children from the centre if the city approves the application for the clinic to be built.
“Please respect and protect our children from these risks and place day cares like ours on your recognized protected list from any methadone clinics such as this one from locating nearby,” he said.
Matt Shaw and Michael Pope, owners of the Dairy Queen outlet on Wharncliffe Road next to the property where the clinic would be built, spoke shortly after Hosack and said roughly 75 per cent of staff at the restaurant are female.
“Since this has been made public about the possible methadone clinic, a lot of our employees have issued, as well as their parents, that they will no longer be working for us,” Shaw said.
Pope added he is a realtor and added it is “ludicrous” to believe property values won’t drop should the clinic be approved and built.
“I know first-hand that I don’t get too many people asking me when they’re looking for a house that they want to be next to a park, a methadone clinic and a school.”
One woman claimed that one of the company’s founders, Dr. Michael Varenbut, is currently accused of professional misconduct by Ontario’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and asked Rhonda Daiter, the company’s operations director, why his profile had been removed from the company’s website.
Daiter said she would not speak to the charges and added the profiles had not been removed and information about the founders is easily accessible.
City staff were also asked about a “needs assessment” regarding the proposed clinic as many people who spoke at the meeting asked why a second clinic in the Wharncliffe Road area was necessary and why the clinic could not be located in an under-serviced part of the city such as Masonville or the “deep east.”
“We have facilities for our community,” one woman said. “Why this location and why not places that aren’t already serviced?
“I think that’s a lot of what people are worried about.”
Daiter said her company has recognized a need for such a clinic in the area and the proposed location is ideal for client access as it is close to public transportation routes.
Eric Lalonde from the city’s planning division added a needs assessment is not needed since a methadone clinic is no different than a dentist’s or a doctor’s office, which do not have to prove there is a need for their services.
Denise Brown, councillor for Ward 11 where the proposed clinic would be located if approved, said she doesn’t believe another clinic is necessary in the area and will vote against the company’s application, should it come before council.
“We don’t need to cluster them in this area,” she said. “And by the way, I put on the table to include day cares (on the buffer list). That was my motion and unfortunately it was defeated.”
She added she would prefer that the province make it mandatory for all pharmacies to have the ability to dispense methadone to limit the number of clinics, which often service hundreds of clients as opposed to the few dozen pharmacies handle, in cities.
John Fleming, the city’s planning director, said city staff will take all of the community input offered during the meeting Wednesday into consideration and the next step in the process is a public meeting, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 24.
From there, the application will go before the city’s planning committee.