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The Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) failed to reach a consensus on a highly contentious application for an alcohol and drug rehab center in North Madison, with the denial or approval potentially resting on a single member as the commission planned to continue its deliberations at another meeting on July 2.
Commissioner Peter Roos recused himself from considering the application. Additionally, another commissioner, Joe Bunovsky, was absent, and Commissioner Seonaid Hay had not participated in previous deliberations on the application and was therefore not asked to participate going forward, according to PZC Chair Ron Clark, meaning only eight members were seated for the deliberation on June 18.
Dr. Michael Hinkley, who already runs a treatment and sober living facility in Madison, is looking to expand to the property at 503 Toll Road, which was formerly a preschool. The facility would not be licensed to administer drugs or perform medical procedures, and would serve low- to moderate-need addicts in individual and group therapy sessions, according to Hinkley.
A public hearing last month saw an outpouring of opposition from neighbors, focusing on mostly claims that clients at the facility would pose a danger to them or that the facility itself would lower property values. A handful banded together to file a legal petition against the facility, though Town Planner Dave Anderson said there is no “particular statutory role” for that group.
The PZC brought in Town Attorney Ira Bloom to discuss the application, having closed the public hearing portion of the process at its previous meeting, which means it cannot legally hear more arguments or information from the applicant or other groups.
Boom emphasized that the PZC had to first determine whether the facility was an office or a “private hospital, sanatorium, or clinic,” with the applicant arguing the former and neighbors arguing the latter.
Four of the eight commissioners stated they felt the facility would qualify as a clinic, and therefore not be allowed under Madison’s regulations. Commissioner Jim Matteson also cited the “overwhelming resistance” of community members as part of why he opposed the application.
Commissioner Joel Miller said it was reasonable that the PZC could make the facility fit the definition of an office by imposing some conditions on the approval, while Commissioner Tom Burland said he thought the application was much closer to a “professional office” than a clinic.
“I understand and hear the neighbors’ concerns, and I feel that we can go a long way to addressing those concerns with fairly tight constrictions in terms of what activities can go on there or what can’t go on there,” Burland said.
Because of the tie—with four members against, and four members in favor—there was some controversy about the approval of the application potentially resting on Bunovsky, who could be allowed to vote on the application on July 2, at a later date, or not at all.
A 4-4 tie would fail to pass the application, according to Bloom and Clark. Bloom instead recommended that Anderson draft a resolution with the specific reasoning of the commissioner members “so there is something to explain if there is an appeal later on.”
Either the applicant or the neighbors could appeal the PZC decision, according to Bloom.
Clark said he feared that Bunovsky could be subject to pressure by people on either side of the debate, which could be exacerbated or heightened if the PZC pushed back its decision.
In the end, Bloom suggested that PZC members send their reasoning and ideas to Anderson to draft resolutions both in favor and against the application, which would be made public before the July 2 meeting. Bunovsky would also be included in that process, according to Bloom, after being asked to watch the videotape of the June 18 meeting.
Anderson told The Source on Monday he had not received final confirmation, but expected Bunovsky to participate on July 2.
The 2020 guide to the Madison Chamber of Commerce has arrived!