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Proposed Methadone Clinic Not Welcome Downtown, Residents Say

By Julie Shapiro | December 8, 2011 1:50pm | Updated on December 8, 2011 3:33pm

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Downtown residents slammed a proposal for a methadone clinic in their neighborhood on Wednesday, fearing it would increase crime in the area.

Residents said they were alarmed to hear that Gramercy Park Services, which has run a substance abuse treatment center on Third Avenue for more than 40 years, wants to move to a 6,000-square-foot space at 90 Maiden Lane in the Financial District.

"We're not necessarily concerned about the patients — I'm concerned about drug dealers looming to prey on the patients in their weakened state," said Linda Gerstman, who spoke against the project on behalf of the 382-unit condo building at 15 Broad St.

A petition opposing the clinic, which would be near several schools, has garnered hundreds of signatures in just a few days, Gerstman claimed.

While methadone is used to treat heroin addiction, it also has street value, and drug dealers have often sprung up around other methadone clinics in the city, an official with the Manhattan District Attorney's office said. The NYPD and the District Attorney's office work together to combat the problem.

After hearing from more than a dozen concerned residents at a meeting Wednesday night, Community Board 1's Financial District Committee took an advisory vote to unanimously reject the proposed clinic, saying it would disrupt a neighborhood still recovering from 9/11.

"We have to protect our community," said Liz Lamere, a member of CB1's Financial District Committee. "We're a community that's trying to rise up above the trauma we've suffered." 

Restaurateur Harry Poulakakos, who has been working downtown for 55 years, said he feared the clinic would sink the neighborhood into the drug crime and violence of the 1980s.

"This is wrong," said Poulakakos, who owns a number of restaurants located near the proposed clinic. "These people need help, yes — but in this area here, it's impossible."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents Lower Manahttan, released a statement on Thursday opposing the clinic.

"I made it clear to everyone involved that this does not seem to be an appropriate location for this facility," Silver said.

Executives at Gramercy Park Services attended Wednesday's community board meeting to describe their plans and urge the board to support the project.

Ronald J. Vlasaty, chief operating officer of Gramercy Park Services, said he would hire three full-time security guards and place a dozen cameras around the new clinic to ensure it is safe.

While some of the 300 to 400 patients at the clinic have criminal records, nearly all are receiving treatment voluntarily and have no interest in causing problems, Vlasaty explained.

"These are people who have reached a point in their lives where they want to make some changes," he said.

Belinda Greenfield, director of addiction medicine at the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, said the state closely monitors the dispensation of methadone. Most patients must take the medication on site, and only those who are employed and stable are allowed to take their doses home.

"It is extremely regulated, and there is a lot of oversight," she said.

Gramercy Park Services has been trying to find a new location for its clinic for more than a year, because its current space at 253 Third Ave. is too small and not handicap accessible, Vlasaty said.

The clinic initially tried to move to other locations in the Kips Bay area, but several landlords broke off negotiations because they did not want to deal with a methadone clinic.

But Mark Thompson, chairman of Community Board 6 on the East Side, said Gramercy Park Services caused no problems in the area. He added that the community board's office did not receive any complaints until it tried to relocate. 

"I think most people didn’t even know they were there," Thompson said in an interview Thursday.  

At Wednesday's meeting, Vlasaty said he thought 90 Maiden Lane would be a good fit, because it already hosts a different substance abuse clinic, Metropolitan Corporation for Life Skills

Metropolitan Corporation has been at the address since 2005 and has not drawn neighbors' complaints, but it also doesn't dispense methadone, which is the major point of concern about the proposed clinic.

Gramercy Park Services has received initial approval from the state to move to 90 Maiden Lane but has not yet signed a lease with the landlord, AM Property.

AM Property did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.  

The community board does not have a formal role in the approval process, so if Gramercy Park Services gets a lease and builds out the space according to state specifications, the clinic could still open.

Vlasaty declined to comment on the community board's negative reaction.

Mary Johnson contributed reporting.