WARREN, Maine — The company that has tried unsuccessfully for more than two years to open a methadone clinic in town has withdrawn its application and will pursue its original federal civil rights lawsuit.
The lawsuit means the town could be liable for significant monetary damages, the company’s attorney said.
“This has dragged on for too long,” said CRC Health Group attorney Walter McKee on Tuesday.
CRC had originally filed the lawsuit in May 2011 but then reached a settlement with the town in September 2011 in which Warren’s insurance carrier would pay $320,000 in damages and the town would pay $1. The settlement, however, called for the town to act on CRC’s application for the clinic within 90 days.
CRC gave the town extensions on that deadline but McKee said no more. Town Manager Grant Watmough said the town was notified Tuesday by fax of CRC’s withdrawal.
The Warren Planning Board approved the proposed clinic in June but several neighbors filed an appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Zoning Board is scheduled to meet again on the matter at 7 p.m. Thursday.
McKee said, however, the appeal is a moot point since the company has withdrawn its application.
“But for the abutters’ action, none of this would have happened,” McKee said.
Attorney James Strong, who represents the neighbors, said his clients are pleased with the announcement. When told what McKee said about the abutters, Strong responded.
“That’s a compliment. It’s a good result for my clients,” Strong said.
The neighbors claimed in their appeal that the planning board erred in determining that the clinic conformed to the town’s land use ordinances and comprehensive plan. The appeal cited congestion, unsafe highway conditions and the clinic’s proposed location within 500 feet of 17 homes.
Strong said he does not know enough about the original federal rights lawsuit against the town to comment on it.
Doug Pope, chairman of the Warren Board of Selectmen, declined Tuesday to comment on CRC’s decision.
McKee said monetary damages against the town could be significant. He said the company has lost nearly two years of operating income since the town blocked efforts for CRC to locate, first at the former Warren Primary School and then on Route 1 at the intersection of Short Street.
He said he does not know if punitive damages would be sought against the town.
An estimated 240 residents turned out at a town meeting in December 2010 to enact a six-month moratorium on methadone clinics after CRC had proposed such a clinic. The moratorium was approved with only one dissenting vote among those attending. The town later adopted new regulations that imposed restrictions on such clinics.
CRC had first proposed its plan publicly in September 2010 and had proposed leasing space in the former Warren Primary School that was owned by the town. Developer Robert Emery signed a purchase and sales agreement with the town but town officials later rescinded it after considerable public opposition.
The town has spent $20,000 on legal fees thus far this year and last month residents agreed to allow spending an additional $60,000 on legal expenses related to the CRC matter.
CRC claims that the town’s actions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by blocking the right of people with opiate addictions to receive a legal type of treatment.
Since the planning board approved the project in June, four of the five panelists have submitted their resignations, citing the controversy over the clinic among their reasons.
A proposed methadone clinic in Rockland has yet to open more than two months after it received its final state license.
The midcoast has been without a methadone clinic since August 2010, when Turning Tide was closed by the federal and state governments.