By Christopher anderson
WASHINGTON – A federal judge has blocked a Baltimore County zoning law that would have made it more difficult to set up methadone drug treatment clinics in the county.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake said that putting methadoneclinics under more stringent zoning than medical facilities is aviolation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She said it alsoviolated a court order that was issued in 2000, when the county tried todo the same thing administratively.
County officials filed papers Wednesday to appeal the decision, asking Blake to stay her injunction until their appeal can be heard.
“We feel that our legislation was a sound piece of legislation. Thisis a very unsettled area of the law that involves very difficult localissues,” said Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for County Executive C. A.Dutch Ruppersberger.
An attorney for Smith-Berch Inc., which is trying to open a clinic inthe county, called the appeal of Blake’s order “groundless.”
Only one methadone treatment program currently operates in Baltimore County.
The case began in 1997 when Walter Smith and Neal Berch got permissionto open a clinic in White Marsh. After they told the county that it wasto be a methadone clinic, the county pulled their permit and Smith andBerch went to court, according to court documents.
The court in 2000 sided with Smith-Berch Inc., saying the countyviolated the ADA by requiring methadone clinics to undergo a publichearing that other medical facilities did not have to undergo.
But earlier this year — as Smith-Berch was considering a Catonsville clinic and two other, unrelated, clinics were set to open — the countycouncil approved a bill that put such clinics in a new zoning category,with alcohol and drug treatment facilities. The new “state-licensedmedical clinics” category was subject to restrictions that other medicaloffices did not face.
The new classification would have mandated a public hearing, a750-foot setback from residential areas and other requirements forstate-licensed medical clinics.
“Clearly, the bill subjects methadone treatment centers to severalonerous requirements, including the hearing and special exception, theset-back, and the parking conditions, that are not applied to othermedical offices (except other alcohol and drug treatment programs),”Blake wrote in her order.
The court ordered that Baltimore County was “enjoined from treating methadone treatment programs differently from other medical offices forpurposes of zoning and thereby preventing Smith-Berch from establishing amethadone treatment program in the county.”