EXETER TWP. — Township residents who opposed a residential addiction treatment center in the former Sarah J. Dymond Elementary School got their way Monday night.
At least for now.
The Exeter Township Zoning Hearing Board unanimously denied an appeal by Sutton Creek LLC to put the Sutton Creek Center for Change in the former school on Sutton Creek Road.
The LLC has 30 days to file an appeal of the board’s decision, which it is expected to do, meaning the battle will now move to Luzerne County Court.
“I can’t say I was surprised (the zoning board) turned us down,” Sutton Creek attorney Bruce J. Phillips said. “We always had a feeling that this would be heading to county court.
“I think we are legally right. It’s a commercially zoned property. The assessment record shows that and it was advertised and sold as a commercial property.”
Attorney Mark McNealis, who represented a host of area residents, made the argument that the area is zoned R1 and “convalescent homes” are prohibited in such an area.
“According to Pennsylvania State law, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility fits the criteria for a convalescent home,” McNealis said.
Phillips argued that the facility would not be a convalescent home.
“It is not a convalescent home,” Phillips argued. “It’s a rehab therapy and treatment center for people with substance abuse problems.”
Phillips said it’s ultimately up to the court to decide whether its residential or commercial zone. Then ultimately if they deem the rehabilitation center fits under a “convalescent home.”
“The applicant (Sutton Creek LLC) argued it’s exclusionary because the service he is proposing isn’t allowed anywhere in the township,” McNealis said. “We said it would be permitted in two of the residential districts and commercial districts in the township, just not in the R1 zoning district he is asking.”
McNealis said a lot of residents felt disrespected by Sutton Creek LLC because they wanted to start a business in a rural low-density zoning district that would operate 24/7 and 365 days a year with a large turnaround.
“I think everyone would acknowledge that what the applicant is trying to do is laudable and something that we need,” McNealis noted. “But we need to find the right place for them. For these folks, they didn’t feel a residential zoning district was the right place.”
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes