SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

October 15, 2012

Clinic's overnight hours raise questions

BY PAUL LEIGHTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News

---- — SALEM — The city’s building inspector has ordered a 24-hour mental health clinic to close at night, saying it is violating city zoning laws by staying open around the clock.

The clinic, called the Community Crisis Stabilization Program, is located at 41 Mason St. It provides emergency psychiatric services for adults 18 and over, including six beds for overnight stays that average three to five days.

Building Inspector Tom St. Pierre issued a cease-and-desist order on Aug. 1 instructing the clinic to stop operating overnight between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m.

In the order, St. Pierre said a 2003 ruling by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals restricted the hours of operation of businesses in the building to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Northeast Behavioral Health, which runs the clinic, has appealed St. Pierre’s order, saying it is exempt from the zoning regulation due to its status as a nonprofit educational company.

The Zoning Board of Appeals has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at 120 Washington St.

The clinic has remained open around-the-clock pending the outcome of the appeal. Marshall Handly, a lawyer representing Northeast Behavioral Health, said the two sides are trying to work out a solution.

“We’re not at odds with the city,” Handly said. “We’re not going at each other. I think we’re trying to come to an understanding.”

Northeast Behavioral Health is a private, nonprofit human services agency with several locations throughout the North Shore, Cape Ann and Merrimack Valley. The company was formed in 2010 by the merger of CAB Health and Recovery Services and Health & Education Services. It is part of Northeast Health System, the parent company of Beverly Hospital.

St. Pierre said the complaint against the clinic’s hours was filed by the White family, which owns a house at 37 Mason St. next to the clinic, which operates out of a brick building that also has several other businesses.

A large plywood sign in the backyard at 37 Mason St. facing the clinic says, “Steve Haley Ruined Our Family Home.” Haley is the owner of the building that houses the clinic.

Neither the Whites nor Haley returned calls seeking comment.

Handly, the attorney for Northeast Behavioral Health, said the company’s facility treats people who are “in crisis” for a variety of behavioral health issues. It has operated out of the Mason Street location for five years.

In issuing the cease-and-desist order, St. Pierre cited a ruling by the Zoning Board in 2003 when it granted a variance to Haley to renovate and expand the building at 41 Mason St., a former tannery, for commercial and light industrial businesses. As one of the conditions of the variance, the board limited the hours of operation in the building to between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Handly, however, said state law exempts nonprofit educational corporations from certain zoning regulations. In a letter to the Zoning Board, Handly said the city can impose restrictions on the size of the building, parking and other issues, but not the hours of operation.

“We’re working cooperatively with the building inspector to try and respond to questions to satisfy him that this is an activity that is exempt under the statute,” Handly said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.