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Rehab facility proposed at site of approved nursing home in Sayreville

SAYREVILLE – An application for a drug rehabilitation facility in Sayreville is being met with concern from residents who live near the proposed location.

An affiliate of Recovery Centers of America (RCA), 901 Ernston Road, LLC, is seeking a use variance and amended site plan approval from the Sayreville Zoning Board of Adjustment for a substance treatment facility on Ernston Road.

Attorney Daniel Himelman presented the application on Nov. 8 and Dec. 13. No decision has been made on the application and the hearing is scheduled to continue on Jan. 24.

According to Himelman, Sayreville Nursing, LLC, received approval from the Sayreville Planning Board in 2014 to operate a long-term care nursing home facility at the property where the substance treatment facility would, if approved, be located. RCA subsequently finalized business terms for a lease agreement with 901 Ernston Road, LLC, which is the current owner of the property.

A use variance is being sought because, according to Himelman, the borough’s zoning officer determined that the proposed facility is not a permitted use in its zone.

In order to receive the use variance from the board, representatives of RCA reasoned that the substance treatment facility would be beneficial for the public because it will assist those afflicted with drug addiction, particularly opioids, which they noted is a prevalent problem in the state and country.

“The U.S. is 4.6 percent of the world’s population and we consume 80 percent of the world’s opioids,” said Dr. Deni Carise, RCA chief clinical officer. “We are a country with really incredible demand for opioids. New Jersey has the sixth highest rate in the nation of [emergency room] visits due to opioid problems and Middlesex County is in the top five counties in the state for overdose deaths.”

Planner Christine Cofone stated that there were no zones in the borough that would permit the facility and made note of the similarities between substance abuse and long-term care facilities, which are permitted in Sayreville.

“I can’t think of a more inherently beneficial use in this current climate than the recovery center that’s being proposed this evening,” Cofone said. “There have been decisions in New Jersey that have rendered these types of facilities as inherently beneficial. Judge [Mary] Jacobson, who’s the assignment judge in Mercer County, overturned a decision in Lawrence Township where a detox center was denied by the Zoning Board of Adjustment and then that was subsequently overturned by Judge Jacobson. In her decision, she found that the detox center was, in fact, an inherently beneficial use.”

Cofone added that she has been personally impacted by substance abuse.

“We did bury my daughter’s father three Octobers ago,” she said. “Oct. 2 of 2014, we lost my daughter’s father to the battles of opioid addiction. This is a disease that does not discriminate against financial, does not discriminate on color – it is a sickness. People who are coming here are sick and trying to get well and they need help. Just like you wouldn’t have a cancer facility turned down, or if somebody died in a cancer facility, you wouldn’t look at them as not doing their job property. This is an epidemic.”

However, the proposed facility was met with objections from residents, who voiced their concerns with the application at the Dec. 13 meeting. While the residents acknowledged the importance of substance treatment facilities, they argued that nursing homes, which the proposed facility would replace, were also a beneficial use that were needed in the community.

“How many nursing homes are in the town of Sayreville at this time? We have one,” resident Dennis O’Leary said. “Everybody in Sayreville, the ratio is one nursing home. That’s a beneficial use with no downside. But somehow, over the course of all these testimonies, that’s just been pushed aside, as if the community should just absorb that. [As if] the zoning board should just bow to the fact that we should supplant a need in our community amongst our elderly, amongst individuals [who] need geriatric care. As if somehow in the equation of things that are necessary and beneficial in this town are just somehow put aside for whatever pressing need, or whatever monetary incentive happens to be the de jour [of the day].

“It’s discriminatory to just cast off our elderly in this town for the sake of whatever we see as the new thing that we should be doing,” he said. “I’m not going to stand here and allow anybody to say that geriatric care and the only nursing home in this community is just needs to be set aside [and] it’s somehow a non-beneficial use. It’s an absolute beneficial use. It’s a bit hubris and it’s frankly offensive that somehow we have to make room for whatever’s new and has a detriment to it.”

Residents were also concerned with the proposed facility being in close proximity to residential areas and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School, which is also located on Ernston Road.

“The thing that really disturbs me is the outpatient aspect of this,” resident Deborah Lee said. “I understand that [patients] are supposed to be escorted in and out by vehicles, but how do you manage that? How do you monitor it? There’s a bus stop right there, right next to the home that’s being built. We could have people coming and going, not being monitored, not being in vehicles, no one’s really going to know. You can say you’re going to do that, but you can’t police that day and night. There’s a school within walking distance. There’s the Harbour Club [community] there.

“I have no problem with supporting these facilities. It is a beneficial use, I don’t disagree with that. But not in a residential community next to a school,” Lee said. “There’s land in Sayreville. This just happens to be convenient for this concern because they can move right into an existing facility. Go build one that isn’t in a residential neighborhood and I’ll support you completely in Sayreville.”

Contact Matthew Sockol at msockol@newspapermediagroup.com.

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