Proposed zoning changes in Stafford would affect future opioid treatment facilities

by Adele Uphaus

Proposed changes to Stafford County’s zoning ordinance would affect how and where future medical clinics can open.

In general, the proposed changes would mean that medical, dental or psychiatric offices and clinics would no longer be permitted “by right” in the 14 zoning districts where they are currently permitted.

By right uses do not require special permits, waivers or zoning amendments as long as the proposed use is consistent with uses identified in the zoning ordinance.

Instead, medical office or clinic uses would only be permitted after approval by the Board of Supervisors of a conditional use permit.

Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to refer the proposed zoning amendments to the Planning Commission and authorize a public hearing to gather community input.

If approved, the changes would add a layer of approval required before new medical offices can open. Also, an estimated 118 existing medical clinics would immediately become “legal nonconforming uses.”

Such use can continue, but “shall not be expanded or extended into any other portion of the structure which was not occupied by the nonconforming use at the time of the adoption of (the amendments),” Stafford County Code states.

If an existing clinic wanted to expand, it would have to first go through the conditional use permit process first.

The clinic would also have to seek a conditional use permit to reopen if it stopped operating for more than two years.

According to background information provided by staff to accompany the agenda item on the proposed amendments, an application for a conditional use permit costs $10,000.

The board asked staff to review how clinic uses are permitted earlier this year, after supervisor Meg Bohmke and neighbors of the Woodlawn Shopping Center off Deacon Road learned that a Maryland-based business plans to open a methadone treatment clinic.

Methadone is a narcotic prescribed to treat opioid use disorder. It is designed to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings without the corresponding high that drives addiction.

Concerted Care Group’s application to open the facility was approved by the county’s zoning administrator in March of this year. The application did not require further approval because the use is permitted by-right under current zoning.

However, Stafford County ordinance does require that neighboring property owners be notified of the application. This did not happen until July, more than three months after the clinic was approved.

A group of neighbors formed the advocacy group 22405 Neighborhood Watch to protest the clinic, citing concerns about its effect on property values and possible safety threats posed by patients of the clinic.

Andrew Manson, one of the group’s organizers, told the Free Lance-Star in July that the group understands that people seeking treatment for substance use disorder deserve compassion. However, he stated that “this is not the place” for a treatment facility.

In September, a Stafford judge dismissed several lawsuits brought by the 22405 Neighborhood Watch group attempting to stop the clinic from opening.

It is not clear when the hearing on the proposed zoning amendments will be held. The Planning Commission meets next on Dec. 13.

Managing Editor and Correspondent