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Austintown residents disprove of drug clinic

AUSTINTOWN — Two trustees and the zoning inspector took a tongue lashing from residents Monday night at the township’s regular meeting.

The furor stemmed from public outrage over a medically assisted treatment facility that is likely to move into a 9,000-square-foot section of the JC Penney building in the Austintown Plaza.

Zoning Inspector Darren Crivelli said last week that the building, owned by Joe Anthony of A2Z Real Estate in Legonier, Pa., is slated to house a treatment facility operated by Concerted Care Group of Burtonsville, Maryland, in the space where Plaza Optical was, next door to Buffalo Wild Wings.

According to its website, the company offers drug-assisted substance abuse treatment — using FDA-approved treatments like suboxone, Vivitrol and methadone — as well as inpatient and outpatient medical and mental health services, including individual and group therapy and intensive psychiatric treatment.

Residents came to the meeting Monday hoping to convince Crivelli not to issue the permit, but became even more frustrated when they learned that the die is cast.

The Zoning Board of Appeals voted on the matter in the fall when now trustee Bruce Shepas was still a member. Shepas was the lone “no” vote, while Joseph Koch, Michael Beaudis, Robert Satterlee and Dale Basista all voted in favor.

Shepas is co-owner of Austintown Bounce, a family recreation business located in the plaza.

Crivelli, as zoning inspector, is bound by the board’s vote to issue the permit, although he has not issued it yet.

Crivelli and trustees — minus Monica Deavers, who was absent — told angry residents Monday evening that the township would face a major lawsuit for discrimination if he does not issue the permit, per the Zoning Board of Appeals vote.

He also told them he will take full blame if the treatment facility lives up to residents’ worst fears.

Residents seemed unwilling to accept that Crivelli’s hands are legally bound, and said they want to know what can be done.

Many said they intend to pressure other business owners in the plaza to apply more pressure to trustees and Crivelli, by picketing outside the proposed location, and telling business owners there — including Shepas — that they will not patronize the plaza if the facility is allowed to open.

Residents expressed concerns about opiate addicts seeking methadone and other addiction treatment medications loitering in the plaza.

Jennifer Houser said her family lives in a neighborhood directly behind the plaza, and had to work with police over a period of years to drive out drug dealers, and now she is worried they will return if the clinic opens.

“You’re creating an environment that is not safe for the community, and not safe for children,” she said.

Brian Como said he worked at a university in Phoenix, near a methadone clinic, and warned Austintown about what he believes is coming.

“You’ll see the homeless encampments grow up around there, because they do not want to be far away from the clinic where they get their meds, then you’ll see the drug dealers move in because that’s where their clients are,” he said. “This will be a nail in the coffin to this community.”

Trustee Robert Santos said he is upset about the location and has sought governmental remedies, but is at a loss.

“I wanted to remove every member of the Zoning Board of Appeals,” he said. “But we cannot find anything under Ohio Revised Code that allows me to do that. If anyone can find a way under Ohio law, that we don’t know about, bring it to me. I’ll present it to the board at an emergency meeting.”

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