London Community News
Applicants and community members argue over ‘as the crow flies’
By Chet Greason/For London Community News
The residents of the neighbourhood surrounding the proposed methadone clinic at 527 Wellington Rd. voiced their concerns at a public meeting held at the site on Thursday night (Oct. 18).
The proposal is particularly controversial, as it would require an amendment to the current bylaw, which says methadone clinics must be at least 300 metres from schools. 527 Wellington Rd. is only 251 metres from Sir George Etienne Cartier elementary school.
City Planning Director John Fleming began the meeting by reminding everyone that it was not a statutory meeting and that no decisions would be made that night; instead, they would be sharing information — the applicant with the community, and vice-versa.
Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher, who had personally invited many of the community members in attendance, encouraged everyone to learn as much as possible “so we can make the right decision,” he said. Planner Eric Lalande gave some background as to the city’s current bylaws regarding methadone clinics, and the process the proposal would be undergoing.
Peter Earle, vice-president of Towards Recovery, the private company applying to build the clinic, told the audience about his business and what they do. He said the methadone clinic industry is a highly regulated environment answering to the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Ontario College of Pharmacists, as well as the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. He also said that the proposed clinic would be well over the 300-metre limit imposed by the city; however, he was speaking in terms of the closest pedestrian route, whereas the bylaw mandates 300 metres in all directions.
Earle also said the clinic would have a zero loitering policy, electronic surveillance coverage and security staff.
He estimated that London has 7,000 to 8,000 people struggling with addiction.
Dr. David Langlois, originally an obstetrician and gynecologist who took an interest in addictions and who now acts as Towards Recovery’s lead physician, told the crowd about methadone therapy, addiction, and the steps an addict must go through in order to receive treatment at a clinic, including observed urine samples and regular meetings with physicians.
“Methadone has a 60-90 per cent success rate, which is the best we have these days with all of our fancy medicine,” he said.
Up until this point, the crowd of more than 100 people had been polite and quiet for the speakers. It was when consultant Richard Zelinka took the podium that the audience could no longer contain their strong feelings against the proposal.
Zelinka referred to the neighbourhood as an “auto-orientated commercial corridor” where “the commercial area is not designed to integrate with residential neighbours.
“People come by car for a specific need, then leave,” he said, adding that Cartier School was the lone sensitive area, and that the only way a loiterer could access the residential neighbours was by an indirect and obscure walkway.
That was enough for the audience, the majority of which was made up of local residents living nearby. Shouts of “You’re wrong!” and “Better check your diagram again!” drowned out Zelinka until Fleming intervened, pleading with the crowd to let the planner finish.
Zelinka again brought up how, by pedestrian routes, the school was far enough away, and that it was only less than 300m as the crow flies (“Or the children?” yelled one exuberant audience member).
The floor was then opened up to the audience who, with the exception of one individual, was against the proposal. Resident Jeff Johnson asked about property devaluation. “I worked my you-know-what off for my house. What are the crime stats? What is going to happen to my 25-year investment?” he demanded.
Dave Ward addressed Earle, saying he made no mention of the profits his company would make from the clinic.
Another resident wondered — if it’s not a shameful thing — why clinics of these kinds aren’t located in medical centres.
Ward 14 Councillor Sandy White, who was in the audience, pleaded with those arguing against the clinic to stop using the term “these people” in describing the clinic’s clientele in a negative way, saying it’s a human rights issue.
More statements followed, including concerns that amending the bylaw would set a precedent, and questions regarding the effectiveness of methadone treatments.
Perhaps the most well-received and poignant public statements of the night came from Rick Wood, principal of Sir George Etienne Cartier elementary, and Karen Dalton, superintendent of the Thames Valley District School Board.
After thanking the city for the democratic process they were carrying out in handling the proposal, Dalton observed that 300 metres was not a random number. “We agreed on ‘how the crow flies’ as it’s one thing we can measure ... it’s consistent,” she said, highlighting the long process, over a number of years, that it took the city, school board, and concerned parties to finally agree on the number.
“We want to applaud the city for the long and arduous process it took to get to 300 metres ... But in asking us to bend to 251 metres, we are totally opposed,” she stated, to thunderous applause. Dalton also added that the school board was not opposed to methadone as a treatment, but wanted city council to maintain the allocated distance in order to keep the rules consistent and to ensure the safety of the students.
After a few more comments from local residents and business employees, the event wrapped up.
The next meeting regarding 527 Wellington St. will be the statutory public meeting in front of the Planning and Environment Committee. Citizens, who wish to speak on the issue, whatever their stance, are urged to attend the meeting and address the committee, or to submit their concerns in writing to Planner Eric Lalande at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The statutory meeting will be held in either late 2012 or early 2013. The committee will decide on a recommendation at the meeting, which will then go before Council for a final decision.