Jackson zoners deny proposal for substance abuse rehabilitation facility

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JACKSON – A plan to establish a substance abuse rehabilitation facility fell one vote short of approval at the Feb. 6 meeting of the Jackson Zoning Board of Adjustment.

White Oak Center LLC proposed to develop and operate a 46-bed inpatient rehabilitation facility in the Pushkin Memorial Home, Pushkin Road, Jackson. The Pushkin Memorial Home is an assisted living facility.

The applicant was seeking a use variance from the zoning board because a rehabilitation facility is not permitted in Jackson’s R-1 residential zone.

Representatives of White Oak Center presented testimony about the proposed facility over the course of several meetings during the past year. On Feb. 6, members of the public had a final opportunity to comment on the application.

Dan Winfield of Bayville supported the proposed facility and said, “I am in recovery myself … people are dying out there. I just had to take a fellow addict to Paterson to get into a rehab (facility) because there are not really any rehabs in our area. If we can get these young kids help and into a rehab it can save their life.”

Winfield said facilities such as the one being proposed in Jackson allow people to become productive members of society.

“Without rehab, people are going to jail. Our jails are over-populated and a lot of people who have addictions are not bad people, they need help,” he told zoning board members.

Andrew Altman of Toms River is also in recovery and said a rehab facility saved his life. He said there is a substance abuse epidemic.

“Getting a rehab into any area, especially Ocean County, is essential. Our kids are dying, it’s all over the news. I have been in recovery for eight years and recovery saved my life. I am a father today, I am employable today. I have had the same job for eight years because of being in recovery,” Altman said.

Vincent Catusco said there are enough rehabilitation facilities in the area. He said the presence of such facilities has not limited the number of incidents that occur due to the use of opioids.

“Everybody in this room is where they are today because of the choices they made growing up,” he said.

Cheyenne Springer of Lakewood said she is a former resident of Jackson.

“While I was living in Jackson I was in active addiction. So (the substance abuse problem) is there because I have seen it firsthand,” she said.

Springer said she has been to treatment centers that are in residential areas and said there has never been a problem.

Other members of the public who spoke in support of the proposed facility identified themselves as residents of Jackson, Howell, Bayville, Lanoka Harbor and Lakewood.

Following the public comments, zoning board members had an opportunity to discuss the White Oak Center application.

Board member Steve Costanzo said there is a balancing act between the needs of the area and the needs of Jackson residents.

“For the consideration of the citizens of Jackson, I take that quite seriously, but I also see the other need, again the balancing act. In my mind the facility is needed, but is the site appropriate?” Costanzo said.

The board’s vice chairman, Carl F. Book Jr., said, “The point that is being made (by the applicant) is that (a rehabilitation facility) is an inherently beneficial use and I think that argument is fairly persuasive argument.”

Book said he believes the proposed use promotes the general welfare of the community and serves the public good.

“I think that is a clear-cut yes,” he said.

Book questioned how the rehabilitation facility would effect the quality of life of people who live near the site.

Board member Joseph Sullivan said, “This is a for-profit business, let’s not mix words. Altruism is wonderful and I understand the need for treatment in Ocean County, but in the end they chose this location to maximize their profits, not necessarily putting it in the best location for such a facility in Jackson.”

Sullivan asserted that the applicant did not look at other locations, but chose the proposed site because they could convert the Pushkin Memorial Home into a rehabilitation facility. He said his problem with the application was the location and he said it is not close to a hospital.

“They also talk about Ocean County needing treatment (centers). Yes it does and we have treatment facilities in Ocean County. So if your argument is that you want this (facility) because it is for Ocean County, why are you putting it at the northernmost point of the county and not somewhere in the middle,” Sullivan said.

The board’s chairman, Sheldon Hofstein, said the applicant did not look for other locations in Jackson. He said he was skeptical about the security of the facility and the effect that such a facility would have on a residential area.

“The site will be a magnet for the influx of drug dealers and drug users to meet in the neighborhood, as a way to get near the facility. The applicant has offered a low 4-foot-tall split rail fence as a deterrent instead of a high solid fence or chain link fence surrounding the site, which would make entry to the site by outsiders just about impossible and keep them from congregating and prowling through the neighborhood,” Hofstein said.

Following the board’s discussion, Book made a motion to grant the use variance that was being sought by White Oak Center. The application required five “yes” votes to pass.

On a roll call vote, Constanzo, Book, Peter Maher and Denis Weigert voted “yes.” Hofstein,  Sullivan and Kathryn McIlhinney voted “no.” The application failed to receive the five “yes” votes needed and the use variance for the proposed rehabilitation center was denied.