MONUMENT — A bank or bakery. A child-care center, a church, a public facility, hotel, laboratory, office or school.
Of the 37 individual permitted uses, the newest business at 192 Front St. in Monument fell under clinic. And Mayor Rafael Dominguez says there’s not a whole lot he can do about the expected methadone treatment center.
While Florida-based Colonial Management Group has not yet received its business license, Monument’s mayor and planning director say it appears to be a done deal, despite significant public objections to the clinic’s downtown location.
Methadone is a synthetic analgesic drug, similar to morphine in its effects, but used as a substitute drug in the treatment of morphine and heroin addiction.
“Who would have thought a methadone clinic in downtown Monument?” Dominguez said. “It’s an eye-opener. I hope it’s an eye-opener for other municipalities that haven’t experienced this yet, because it’s only a matter of time.”
NMIM says ‘NIMBY’
Dominguez said he has no problem with the nature of Colonial Management Group’s business, but he does take issue with its location — in Monument’s historic downtown, across the street from one of the town’s most popular parks and playgrounds. Representatives from Colonial Management did not return phone calls about their opening date or business plan.
And local opposition has found not only a voice, but legal counsel to help it fight the clinic’s location.
No Methadone Clinic in Monument, or NMIM, is a citizens group that set up a 501(c)3 to solicit donations in order to fund legal counsel to battle the proposal, according to Tom Allen, a board member. Allen would not disclose who is representing the group, but he did say NMIM’s representation has an “impeccable reputation and has subject matter expertise in this area of planning and zoning.”
“He took me through this step by step and said he’s confident we have a case,” Allen said.
Allen believes the town is guilty of malfeasance because it did not properly investigate prior transgressions committed at Colonial Management Group clinics outside the state, including Minnesota and Texas. According to an investigation by the Tri-Lakes Tribune in Monument: “Officials in Minnesota and Texas cited Colonial clinics with dozens of infractions ranging from excessive counselor caseloads to inadequate treatment plans for clients. And a clinic in Alabama was fined when it could not account for more than 3,000 doses of methadone.”
Dominguez said background checks are beyond the scope of town government.
“The town is not in the business of doing background searches on companies desiring to move here. That’s not the function of government,” he said. “I don’t know of any municipality that does background checks on businesses that want to move into their community.”
The group will have a chance to air its concerns. The Monument Board of Adjustments could hear an appeal about the clinic and its location as early as Aug. 6, but it may be postponed to find a larger space to accommodate the expected crowd, according to Monument Planning Director Mike Pesicka.
Peter Wysocki, Colorado Springs planning director, said the situation faced by the city’s neighbor to the north could happen here.
“It’s a concern and certainly something we will consider and evaluate — whether we want to amend zoning code to better define and separate uses,” Wysocki said.
Zoning regulations in the Springs don’t clearly define clinical facilities and their acceptable locations, Wysocki said. Essentially, methadone clinics could open in any building that would otherwise house a pediatrician’s or dentist’s office, including across the street from parks, schools and daycare centers.
“It could be located in downtown Colorado Springs,” Wysocki said. “That’s a mixed zoning district and allows for a number of different uses, provided the building meets the form requirements of the downtown area. But [Monument’s] downtown is different from our downtown. This is urban, and our concern would be more in the suburban context, which would be closer to schools or parks.”
Wysocki said he understands Monument’s predicament, adding there are few safeguards for municipalities regarding allowable businesses once they meet code requirements.
“As long as a project meets dimensional development standards, the city would have very limited authority to deny it,” he said.
“The public can appeal the city’s decision to approve, and that would go to a public hearing before the planning commission and maybe as far as city council.”
Dominguez said the ease with which Colonial Management Group was granted approval is a testament to the town’s efforts to streamline efficiencies and rectify less-than-friendly business practices from the past. Despite the methadone clinic’s planned opening, limiting restrictions to starting a business is still a priority, he said.
“We have a process in place so we can be less bureaucratic, less cumbersome,” Dominguez said. “There’s no reason for our board [of trustees] to look at every request going through the planning department. That slows things considerably … That smacks of bureaucracy and it’s not streamlined … This one caught us in the shorts, but this is a very unique circumstance.”
Dominguez added that, to change the code or deny a business license now would likely open litigation from the clinic, future clinics and the landlord, Bob Mikulas of Mikulas Investments.
Dominguez said ignoring zoning laws and administratively blocking the company from doing business is not an option.
“What does it say about a body of elected officials knowingly and wantonly [going] out and [violating] its own laws? I would find that to be a very irresponsible and untrustworthy government,” the mayor said. “Where do you draw the line? This is a legal business and they have a right to operate there whether we find it desirable or not.”
Dominguez said the town’s only option now is to amend the code to prevent similar, future instances.
Despite public outcry, little evidence points to methadone clinics driving up crime.
Colonial Management Group operates a clinic in Grand Junction and, according to Heidi Davidson, public information coordinator with the Grand Junction Police Department, there have been three responses to alarms at the location since it opened last year — two while the alarm was being installed and the third was employee error. She said the police intranet, where notes are shared among officers, has not indicated any increased illegal activity due to the clinic.
“There’s nothing notable in relation to the clinic at all,” she said.
Lt. Catherine Buckley, spokesperson with the Colorado Springs Police Department, said local law enforcement hasn’t had any enforcement issues specific to the city’s only existing methadone clinic, Colorado Treatment Services at 2010 E. Bijou St., a few blocks east of Union Boulevard.
“We haven’t noticed anything specific to the clinic,” Buckley said. “But looking at the neighborhood, it’s a challenging location to begin with.”
Monument Police Department’s Lt. Steve Burke said he has contacted other departments in municipalities with clinics, to include Grand Junction and Fort Collins.
“The answer we’re getting [from other law enforcement agencies] is they’ve had no problems nor seen an extra burden on their departments,” Burke said. “That doesn’t mean it will be that way for us. We’re prepared to keep in contact with the company when it opens and we may have additional staffing the first several days.”
Even if crime doesn’t increase, surrounding property values could decrease, according to Trish Flake, a Tri-Lakes Realtor and former Palmer Lake town councilor.
“Historically clinics of that sort have driven property values down, especially if crime goes up,” Flake said.
“Overall, it could affect the image of the Tri-Lakes region.”