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Hernando commissioners reject Operation PAR drug clinic in Spring Hill

BROOKSVILLE — After two hours of spirited discussion, the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday unanimously turned down a planned methadone clinic on Kass Circle, north of Spring Hill Drive.

Property owners, renters and representatives of nearby businesses filled the commission chambers to register their disapproval of the project. They described a residential and commercial neighborhood where pedestrians regularly circulate between nearby apartments and businesses ranging from an ice cream parlor and a pizza restaurant to a beauty salon and a grocery store.

They expressed concern that their neighborhood would be negatively affected by Pinellas County-based Operation PAR's plan to open a methadone clinic in a 5,300-square-foot, standalone building that previously housed a day care center. Many said they had safety concerns about recovering drug addicts coming to the clinic; others worried that their commercial plazas would lose tenants.

"This clinic is not compatible with our neighborhood and our shopping center,'' said nearby resident Bill Luecke, who predicted that if Operation PAR moved in, the center would become a "ghost town shopping center.''

The clinic is needed, but near a hospital and not "in the middle of a neighborhood,'' said Jeff Phillips, owner of a nearby Hungry Howie's pizza restaurant.

"Simply do the right thing,'' he told commissioners.

Others spoke of the potential for clients of a methadone clinic to relapse and the fear that local business employees and customers would feel knowing that addicts were in the area.

Officials from Operation PAR argued that their services are badly needed in the county and that the zoning was already appropriate for medical clinics.

Thirty-five-year Operation PAR employee Gary Wenner said he was sickened by all the misinformation that was being reported about the organization's plans.

"We were asked by the state of Florida to provide this service in Hernando County,'' he said, noting that about 70 of PAR's clients in Pasco County are from Hernando.

"We do not create problems in neighborhoods,'' he said.

Land-use attorney Barbara Wilhite urged commissioners to listen to the testimony of the residents and business owners.

"They're telling you about the nature of the surrounding use,'' she said, and she said that can be considered in making a decision.

Commissioners also could not approve the plan if the special use "adversely affects the public interest,'' said Wilhite, who was representing nearby apartment owner Gene Michael.

After listening to several dozen speakers, commissioners determined that the clinic would not be compatible with the surrounding area and overturned the July approval by the county's Planning and Zoning Commission.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando commissioners reject Operation PAR drug clinic in Spring Hill 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 7:42pm]
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