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Crush of patients create parking problems at Port Richey methadone clinic

PORT RICHEY — Each morning Frank Mesko watches as droves of people seek treatment at the methadone clinic across the street from his home.

He was never a fan of Operation PAR moving into his neighborhood on Washington Street, just east of U.S. 19, five years ago. But he is growing weary of the influx of patients who arrive each morning for their methadone, designed to wean them off their addiction to opiates.

The problem is parking.

In recent months, Mesko said, the overflow from Operation PAR's parking lot has gotten out of hand. Mesko said patients park in the right-of-way and often turn around in his driveway when they pass the clinic. He grew so fed up with the parking situation recently that he picked up the phone and called police.

"Every morning they're lined up waiting," Mesko said. "It just doesn't belong in a residential neighborhood."

Other residents have complained, and even employees of the nonprofit clinic have called law enforcement for help with the parking problems, according to Port Richey police Chief Dave Brown.

"They have called us when they felt like they couldn't control the situation," Brown said. "I've been there personally and seen their employees in the parking lot trying to direct traffic."

In an effort to get the situation under control, Brown said his officers have been writing parking tickets when someone parks in the public-right-way on the tight two-lane road. One Sunday three weeks ago, Brown said, he used his police loudspeaker to warn the clinic's patients that tickets would be issued. Even so, he said, officers wrote more than 20 citations that day.

"I understand they need to get their medications and they have a right to do that," Brown said. "But they can't do that by parking illegally."

Employees at the clinic declined to comment last week, and calls to Operation PAR for this story went unreturned.

The complaints have reached City Council. At a recent board meeting, council member Nancy Britton criticized the Operation PAR facility.

"They seem as though they've outgrown the space, which is sad, but true," Britton said. "It's not fair to the residents over there that have to deal with that every day. It's horrific that it's there and makes it even worse now that we are dealing with these issues."

Operation PAR was a lightning rod in 2007 when it submitted plans to the city to move into facility at 7720 Washington St. after outgrowing a previous location on Ridge Road. Residents were vocal in their opposition, but Port Richey building officials said Operation PAR met the commercial zoning requirements of the property.

At the time, Britton resigned herself to Operation PAR moving in. "There nothing we can do," she said in 2007. "They have a right to be there." And Operation PAR has fought in court for that right in other jurisdictions.

Last month, Operation PAR settled a federal lawsuit with Hernando County after commissioners there denied a permit for a clinic in Spring Hill. The settlement came after Hernando's insurance company reported that the county would likely lose the lawsuit if it went to court.

It's unclear when Operation PAR may open its doors in Hernando. But that new facility could alleviate some of the demand on the Port Richey clinic. Marvin Coleman, Operation PAR vice president of community and business relations, has previously told the Times that more than 100 patients travel from Hernando to Port Richey to get their treatments.

Until then, the city is working with Operation PAR to improve the parking conditions, according to City Manager Tom O'Neill.

"I've met with the staff there and they want to do everything they can to help," O'Neill said. "I think they get overwhelmed with the number of people that come. And then it just mushrooms. They've always been cooperative in trying to keep this situation out of the neighborhood."

Crush of patients create parking problems at Port Richey methadone clinic 11/17/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 17, 2012 1:32pm]
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