ROCKLAND, Maine — The city is a step closer to once again having a methadone clinic operating within its limits after councilors approved a zoning change Wednesday that would allow developers to move forward with their plan.
“I think it was the right thing for the council to do, and I think it was time for it to pass,” Mayor Brian Harden said Thursday morning, just hours after the sometimes heated council debate.
“These clinics are what the federal government wants in this country at this time. We can make sure it’s done properly, according to our regulations, but we can’t deny it.”
The City Council voted 3-2 in favor of amending the zoning ordinance during the regular council meeting, which came nearly three weeks after a public hearing on the matter. Councilors Lizzie Dickerson and Larry Pritchett opposed the change. Harden, Eric Hebert and Will Clayton voted in favor of it.
Dickerson had wanted to send the ordinance, which had been amended by councilors Wednesday night, back to first reading. But Harden disagreed, and the majority of the council ultimately sided with him. The dispute sparked raised voices and “hollering,” Harden said.
“It was exciting, but it was brief — and it was legitimate on both sides,” he said. “Only, I don’t like to get that noisy.”
Efforts to reach Dickerson on Thursday were unsuccessful.
The property in question is at 166 New County Road, which was home to the Turning Tide methadone clinic until federal drug agents shut it down last summer after citing threats to public health and safety.
Angel Fuller McMahan, who ran Turning Tide, was arrested last August for possession of cocaine. After the shutdown of the clinic, city councilors determined that Fuller’s company had broken the rules of the contract zone the city had given her. The building is not allowed to serve as a clinic without special permission from the city, which building owner Ann Tuttle has requested.
Colonial Management Group, which already has a methadone clinic in Bangor, has indicated its interest in operating a clinic in the building.
Tuttle was reached by telephone Thursday but chose not to comment on the matter.
Councilors on Wednesday night made a few changes to the seven-page conditional rezoning amendment, which only allows developers to apply for planning board and code office approval.
“Nothing herein shall obligate the planning board or code enforcement official to make any particular finding,” the ordinance amendment states.
The amendment also places restrictions on who may operate a methadone clinic in Rockland.
Fuller McMahan is forbidden from having anything to do with such a business, including consulting there, working there, owning or partly owning it.
Additionally, the clinic operator may not employ any person who has ever been convicted of unlawfully selling, purchasing or possessing any controlled substance as a manager, pharmacist or clinical director.
In a civil lawsuit filed last fall in Rockland District Court, Fuller McMahan was accused by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency of making offers to trade methadone for cocaine, of buying cocaine from clinic patients and of employing at least one person with a drug conviction.
Fuller McMahan was convicted in October of possession of cocaine and was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail and to pay a $400 fine for the class D crime. The court dropped a more severe Class B charge for possession of more than 14 grams of cocaine.
Her sentence was later modified to 14 days in jail and 14 days served under house arrest.
In other business, city councilors discussed at length the recent downtown assessment and also the sewage infrastructure construction scheduled to take place between Sept. 17 and the end of October.
That project will cause a “great disruption” to the downtown traffic pattern during its four different phases and will include blasting near the post office.
Councilors talked until nearly midnight, when the five-hour-plus meeting came to a close.