Detox Center Plan In Downtown Highlands Meets Resistance

June 23, 2018
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Located a less than a half mile north of the Chubby Pickle and less than third of a mile south of The Claddagh, the abandoned Highlands Methodist Church at 181 Bay Ave. is the proposed site of a new residential drug and alcohol detox center. An application for the development of the site came before the borough’s Land Use Board on Wednesday, June 13.

By Chris Rotolo |

HIGHLANDS – About 90 borough residents flooded a council meeting last week to go on record with their objections to a detox center’s plan to move in to the heart of downtown Highlands.

An application before the planning board to repurpose the abandoned and dilapidated Highlands United Methodist Church at 181 Bay Ave. into a for-profit drug and alcohol detoxification facility was called into question at the June 6 government meeting by residents. Home owners and merchants expressed concern that the detox center would negatively impact the downtown.

“You can’t underestimate the financial burden this is going to cause,” said Daniel Krause, a borough resident who moved to the municipality from Hoboken two years ago. “People are buying homes here. Businesses are moving to town. This type of facility in the middle of our downtown area is absolutely going to deter people from investing here in the future.”

Borough resident Maria Carroza referenced the small-town quaintness of Highlands, vibrant with parades, town-wide yard sales and live music events. She said the environment was not conducive to the detoxification process.

Carozza also cited safety concerns for active Highlands community members who often walk or bike from their homes and apartments toward the downtown nightlife.

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“I just don’t understand how a facility of this kind, in this location can be beneficial to anybody, including those going through the detox program,” Carozza said. “This is not a retreat-like environment. It just doesn’t seem fair to force an addict to recover in this environment and it certainly isn’t fair to put this facility in the heart of such an active community. This would disrupt so many lives in a town that has already seen so many devastating times.”

Lantana, Florida resident Erin Sherman and Wall Township are the owners. Both have experience working for an organization that administers treatment programs to clients in hopes of helping them maintain a sober life.

Sherman and Sabatino were in attendance June 6 to listen to the concerns of local residents. Sherman aimed to provide more insight about the facility.

“The plan is for this facility to be a short-term detox center in which clients will be coming and staying with us on site. We will help them get medically detoxed from what they are using so they may then go to another facility for treatment,” said Sherman, who noted that the average length of stay for a client is five to seven days.

Sherman stressed that the majority of a client’s stay at the facility would be spent indoors sleeping off the physical and psychological effects of their detoxification, as well as consulting with medical professionals and attending group therapy sessions, rather than venturing out into the community.

“There will not be any reason for our clients to be engaging with the public or even spending time outside,” Sherman said.

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Residents questioned Sherman’s claim, noting that on the Sprout Health Group website underneath the “Treatment Elements” section is a subcategory titled “Experiential Therapies,” which includes “Outdoor Therapy,” and discusses simple therapeutic activities like fishing that can help “balance the mind and keep it off negative thoughts and emotions.”

Sprout Health Group informational services also confirmed that, for clients enrolled in drug and alcohol detoxification programs who are over the age of 18, there are no “lockdown facilities.” In fact, the only way to ensure a client remains enrolled in a program and inside a facility – such as the one proposed for 181 Bay Ave. – is if treatment is court-mandated.

It’s the apparent freedom to come and go as an adult client pleases that has Linda Morrone worried.

Morrone, who owns ShoreSide Veterinary Care, located across the street at 182 Bay Ave., is concerned about the narcotics she maintains on site to treat her patients and the potential lure they may create for those being treated at the detoxification facility.

“I do have several drugs in my building and I cannot express my concern enough,” Morrone said.

The Highlands Borough Council offered a platform for residents to make their public comments but was bound from offering any of their own before the application goes before the Land Use Board June 13.

No ruling will be made on the application at the meeting nor will public comments be heard.

A date for an official hearing on the application will be decided upon at the meeting and all residents located within 200 feet of 181 Bay Ave. will be notified of that hearing date through certified mail. At that hearing public comments will be accepted.

This article was first published in the June 14-June 21, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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