Press "Enter" to skip to content

A rehab on Gordonsville's Main Street?

Gordonsville residents turned out in force at Town Hall Monday night in protest of an estimated 70-bed residential drug rehabilitation center approved in a former assisted living facility on North Main Street.

Cardinal Health, a Virginia-based company, has a zoning permit and business license from town officials to operate the 24/7 center in the old Gordon House, which closed last year after 40 years in business. The drug treatment center use is by-right, meaning no special permits or public hearings were required.

In the end, the Gordonsville Town Council agreed to refer the case to the Board of Zoning Appeals, in response to an appeal filed by residents. In addition, more than a dozen people, mostly downtown property and business owners, voiced vehement opposition to the project over two hours of public comment.

“Gordonsville has come a very long way since the days of the wall,” said Bruce and Jackie Gupton, owners of multiple properties in town, in a letter read at the start of public comment. “It would be a shame to regress … the town’s merchants are not in favor of such a facility.”

“The wall” is a reference from the not-too-distant past when illegal drugs were openly bought and sold near the Civil War-era Exchange Hotel museum on South Main Street.

John Chiles, who owns properties adjoining the old Gordon House on the other end of Main Street, said the rehab’s permits were issued prematurely for the new use.

“It’s not a special care hospital. It is what it is: a rehab,” he said. “I don’t believe in the middle of the town of Gordonsville is appropriate.”

Some residents feared clients of the rehab would wander into the street to meet their drug dealers and relapse. Others felt clients would frequent businesses and scare away tourists.

Owen Peterson, who owns Folkling, a boutique on Main Street, said he and his wife moved to town four years ago and put down roots.

“We picked Gordonsville because it was a small, beautiful town seemingly free of big city problems,” he said.

“We have a lot of fear surrounding this whole thing,” Peterson added of the proposed treatment center. “It’s not the right place to do it.”

A letter circulated on social media envisioned an addicted, mentally ill population wandering Gordonsville as well as increase in homelessness, crime and the need for more emergency medical personnel.

Cardinal Wellness associates presented their business plan at the meeting Monday, answering questions called out from the audience.

Michael Silberman, a co-owner of the proposed facility, started by saying he’s been clean since 2005.

“I very much have experience with recovery. This is not something new to me, been in this professional space 10 years, started in Florida, where I got clean and sober when I was 21,” he said.

Silberman said he and other partners opened and now operate 18 treatment centers in seven states, employing nearly 350 people. The Gordonsville site will create 45 to 55 jobs, he said.

It’s typically a nine-month process for permitting and licensing, Silberman said, noting they do not have a target date for opening the Gordonsville site.

Silberman said they have signed a lease for use of the 26,000-square-foot property, with the building’s owner and local tycoon Paul Manning.

He stated there has been no increase in crime or ambulance calls at their other facilities.

“There are no high-risk patients. They’ve already been sober for a while.”

Clients participate in five to six hours of daily programming along with group therapy and recreation and receive meals on site, he said. Partnerships with places such as the Oxford House — a nonprofit organization that provides a network of drug-free residences — ensure smooth transitions once clients graduate from the program, Silberman said.

“The speculation of this being a methadone clinic or detox center is incorrect. You will not see the residents. You will have no clue they are even there.”

Cardinal Wellness LLC co-owner Michael Rothstein said they opened a 30-bed recovery center nearly two years ago in Quantico, Maryland, called Recovery 180.

Their model is one staff member for every 10 patients, along with security guards and cameras. Medical staff includes nurse practitioners, physicians and nurses who will come on site, Rothstein said.

There will be no need for a curfew since the residents are not allowed to leave without a staff member with them, he added.

“It will not be an optic nightmare,” Rothstein told the crowd. “There won’t be drug addicts running around town.”

Christine Weber, a regional executive director with Cardinal Wellness, said she has worked with clients with behavioral health issues and addiction, providing a variety of levels of care, since 2005. She referenced a “vacuum of information” swirling around the Gordonsville proposal.

“Cardinal Wellness Center is going to be licensed as a low-intensity residential treatment program,” she said. “This is an evidence-based, long-term residential treatment program designed for people who are physically and psychologically stable.”

Patients will not be in medical withdrawal when they are dropped off by a loved one, voluntarily, at the center, Weber said.

“I see the looks of horror,” she said. “This is not an acute facility, not a receiving facility. We have a professional team of clinicians that screen and make sure that they meet the criteria for admission.”

Clients will come from all around Virginia, Weber said, and will work on things like prevention skills, relationships and employment.

“These are not individuals that will be wandering the streets. The bulk of the treatment day is spent in the building,” she said. “They are not going out shopping at the local shops — there’s no reason for them to. They’re in treatment, and that’s their job.”

Weber said she’s helped operate treatment facilities all over New England, Indiana and Ohio.

“Our clients are looking for a place to recover in a private setting. These are not individuals who want to be exposed to you any more than you want to be exposed to them,” she said.

Alan Johnson said his mother lives across the street from the projected facility.

“Someone tried to slide this through,” he said, adding the process was “really secretive” for approval of the by-right use.

Resident Elizabeth Chappell added the rehab poses a threat to town security.

“A detox is seen as an invitation to criminal mayhem and a deterrent to visitors,” she said.

Another woman said she recently moved to Gordonsville from Los Angeles and the proposed facility would bring “a population of addicts” and undermine all that has been done to increase tourism downtown.

Property owner Jason Capelle envisioned litigation over approval of the treatment center.

“It’s the worst possible place to put one,” he said. “We’re not going to let this stand. There will be a fight.

“Your entire legacies are at stake,” Capelle told council members.

He, like others, asked the local governing body to rescind the permit.

Gordonsville Mayor Bob Coiner commented at the end of the meeting Monday.

“It’s not what we want there. How about if it’s by-right? It becomes a whole legal process that takes [the town council] out of the picture.”

Coiner said his problem was the appeal process was allowed to expire before anybody knew it was an issue.

“We can’t step in the legal process, but we can help guide where we go from here,” he said.

He requested the Board of Zoning Appeals look at the case that was approved administratively, as was permitted.

“I want this to be an open discussion for the community. This needs to be a community decision.”

Gordonsville town attorney Richard Wilkinson said the Board of Zoning Appeals would make a decision on the matter, according to the law. Town Council appoints the five-member board that meets as needed.

Town administration did not immediately return a call seeking information on when the board will meet on the issue.


Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *