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The Village of Lansing Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously reversed Code Enforcement Officer Michale Scott's designation of the The Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County (The Council) 40-bed medically supervised detox and stabilization unit project as a hospital. They voted to apply 'Special Care Facility' (SCF) as the new designation, which does allow the project under current zoning ordinance for the Commercial Low Traffic zone.

The 19,420 square foot building near the corner of Triphammer and Graham Roads was secured by The Council early last year after looking at 44 sites to find the best fit with the fewest potential zoning issues. The detox unit has always been part of The Council's plan for the building. The ground floor has been used for out-patient services, and the 40-bed detox facility is to be installed on the second floor.

Sullivan says The Council received assurances from a previous Village Code Enforcement Officer that a detox unit is within the Village's allowed uses in the Low traffic Commercial zone the building is located in. But when Scott evaluated the proposal, he ruled that the project would define the facility as a hospital, which is not an allowed use.

The Village BZA was The Council's next recourse. Before tuesday's meeting tBZA members had received a number of correspondences, most speaking in favor of the project. Tompkins County Director of Public Health Frank Kruppa said that the issue appears to be a land use issue that he hoped could be resolved because the service is needed in Tompkins County.

"The County does have oversight over The Council," Kruppa said. "We are extremely supportive of what they are trying to do. At this point we've got general agreement that we need these services in the County. They've been great partners to date and I'm hoping you can find a solution for them."

Village of Lansing Planning Board member Monica Moll also encouraged board members to predesignate the project as an allowed use.

"I feel like its a valuable asset to the Village and to Tompkins County in general," she said. "I live just up the street from their current operation and you wouldn't even know they were there. They're good neighbors. We haven't had any issues, and I feel that what they are actually doing would fit quite well in the Village."

While the discussion seemed to lean toward changing the designation to an allowed use, BZA member Roy Hogben asked what happens if a patient decides to walk out the door before his or her treatment is completed.

"This is a voluntary program," The Council Executive Director AngelaSullivan said. "These are people with mild to moderate diagnoses who want to get treatment. So people who are there want to be there. Second, they can't just walk out of the building without a plan in place -- what is their next level of care, or someone to come and get them, or a ride to take them home. They can't just walk out. We do a good job of helping to move them through these levels of care. People who come to this want to get well."

Sullivan says the detox facility will also benefit the Village by adding 35 new jobs on top of the current 25 employees at the Triphammer facility who have been offering out-patient care since it opened last year.

"We can decide that it's not a hospital, but something akin to a Special Care Facility. If that's the closest fit we can try to decide what we want it to be. If that is what we do we don't have to go any further. The Council would then move to the Planning Board for a special permit," BZA Chair Lynn Leopold said before polling the other board members.

The Board voted unanimously to reverse Scott's 'hospital' designation, and then voted unanimously to apply 'Special Care Facility' as the new one. A number of board members noted that village zoning code for commercial areas should be evaluated to bring it up to date.

"I would like to say that I think our Code Enforcement Officer has done a splendid job. That was not an easy call," Leopold said. "He worked with the information that he had. I think it is clear that we should be revisiting our code and the uses in the various commercial zones, because these are old designations. No one even thought about a detox center back in 1992. Things have changed. Our village is changing. People's needs are changing."

For his part, Scott said he was also pleased with the process and is prepared to support the ruling.

"I still don't second-guess my decision, but as I have said before, the beauty of this is that this is part of the process," he said. "And the process seems to have worked in this case. I have nothing against the Council -- it is just a decision I made with what I had in front of me, and as it is now I wish you the best."

Leopold noted that the work The Council does is especially vital in these troubled times.

"I don't doubt that the need is extreme right now, and only going to get worse until we're out from under the double burdens of economic crisis and the COVID crisis. So I certainly support what the Alcohol and Drug Council is trying to do," she said.

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