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Buffalo Common Council rejects methadone clinic expansion, moves ahead on Fruit Belt parking issue

Expansion of a Virginia Street methadone clinic got a thumbs down, while a Fruit Belt parking permit plan got a thumbs up.

Those feelings were expressed Tuesday by the Buffalo Common Council, which adopted resolutions on the issues.

Such resolutions don’t change anything, but they do let other agencies making decisions on the issues know how city lawmakers feel.

On the issue of the clinic, Council members said they understand that the growing heroin and opioid crisis means an increased need for treatment, but they objected to officials at the clinic at 254 Virginia St. making decisions without input from neighboring residents. Council members said a larger clinic would be better suited for a commercial area or an existing medical facility rather than a residential neighborhood.

Lawmakers said they are not suggesting that the existing clinic move, just that it not be permitted to expand.

“We understand the need for facilities such as this,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen. “But this is the middle of a neighborhood.”

Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk said, “This is a serious matter. People need to be treated. However, what this Council objects to is that decisions have been made without input from the community, as required. This was never done.”

The methadone clinic, run by Hispanics United and its parent organization, Acacia Network, serves about 200 people, but has a waiting list of nearly 150, and wants to expand to serve those on the waiting list, said Acacia program director Elizabeth Smith.

Smith disputed contentions that the agency has not sought community input and noted that almost 50 community members attended a recent meeting. The agency has done a lot of community outreach, and plans to do more, she said.

Given the opiate epidemic, the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services is encouraging treatment centers to increase their capacity, she said.

The Council resolution is being sent to state regulators and lawmakers, since the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services licenses the clinic, and will decide whether the Virginia Street license can be expanded.

The resolution supporting a Fruit Belt permit parking program is being sent to the State Legislature. State lawmakers are being asked to let Buffalo establish a permit parking plan in the neighborhood, where residents complain that they cannot find places to park because so many employees of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus park there.

The current plan, Pridgen said, is to provide permit parking to residents as well as to some employees with lower-paying jobs. He said current discussions center on allowing Medical Campus employees earning under $35,000 annually to qualify for some of the street parking.

Pridgen said the resolution adopted Tuesday is being sent to the Assembly and Senate in hopes of getting approval in this legislative session.