BOSTON – On Tuesday May 2nd, Representative Paul K. Frost (R-Auburn) testified before the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government which Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) serves as the Senate Chairman, on House Bill 3214, An act relative to methadone clinic zoning.
The legislation was drafted in response to concerns voiced by residents in the Town of Millbury regarding the placement of a methadone distribution clinic operated by Spectrum Health Systems, Inc. at 50 Howe Avenue, in proximity to a downtown residential area, athletic field, and school bus stop. Despite pushback from members of the community, the town had little to no negotiating ability on zoning restrictions even though there were other available areas, due to the so-called Dover Amendment.
Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40A, Section 3 – commonly known as the “Dover Amendment,” named after the town which the law would initially impact back in the 1950’s – provides exemption for certain service-providing facilities from local zoning ordinance on an agricultural, religious, or non-profit educational basis. An important point of contention has been the amendment’s lack of detail regarding what defines “educational purposes.”
Spectrum Health Systems, Inc. has claimed their facility qualifies for the exemption by “devoting the property to a principally educational use,” with “on-site education and behavior modification” held in classrooms on a weekly basis. However, part of their program includes administering methadone, a Schedule II Drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, and some have speculated on the negative implications of bringing the clinic to the proposed location as being beyond what was intended to be protected under the Dover Amendment.
Although acknowledging the value of such treatment centers, many in Millbury have urged their local officials to look into making changes to the Dover Amendment and thus allowing communities to control the zoning of methadone clinics. The bill was filed at the beginning of this legislative session after Representative Frost and Senator Moore heard from residents at the request of those rallying against the location of the facility on Howe Avenue.
Speaking at the hearing at the State House, Representative Frost questioned why an organization like Spectrum should be exempt under the Dover Amendment, as healthcare and medical dispensary facilities are not specifically covered by that section of the law. Rep. Frost drew comparisons to the State’s approach to regulating Registered Marijuana Dispensaries, which also distribute a controlled substance as part of medical treatment. As written, H.3214 would require methadone clinics to adhere to the same 500-foot buffer zone from “any facility in which children commonly congregate" and allows for local communities to set their own zoning by-laws as well.
Frost commented, “Since the state adopted medical marijuana distribution facilities zoning giving communities a stronger say on where such places may operate locally, it is clear to me we should update our laws to do the same for methadone distribution clinics. Since the courts have chosen to give methadone clinics exemption from local zoning by citing the Dover Amendment, local communities can be sued for attempting to restrict where a methadone clinic could go in their city or town. That's just not right. Nowhere in the Dover Amendment does it reference healthcare or medical uses for a zoning exemption. This bill aims to right that wrong by giving our communities a stronger say and allow for our methadone distribution clinics or centers to be treated the same way in zoning as medical marijuana dispensaries. This bill seeks to give all our communities in the Commonwealth the ability to have zoning by-laws concerning methadone distribution centers."
“As a legislator, and as a parent, I recognize that we cannot succeed at addressing the opioid epidemic and reducing the risk to our families until we confront the realities of this challenge and ensure that adequate resources are made available,” said Senator Moore. “However, I also recognize the need for ensuring that host communities are not adversely impacted by the local presence of these services. This legislation responds to the concerns raised by many residents within my hometown of Millbury.”
Senator Moore has also filed a bill, supported by Frost and other legislators, to establish a special commission on the Dover Amendment. It has been designed to study the impact of the exemption the amendment offers and make recommendations for legislation, which would include a proposed definition of “educational purposes".
H.3214, An Act relative to methadone clinic zoning, must be reported favorably out of the committee before continuing through the legislative process.