By DELL SIMEONE Specially Written for The Westfield Leader 
September 13, 2012

CRANFORD – The Cranford Township Planning Board, last Wednesday evening, had some tough questions for Warren Connelly, the executive director of the proposed Counseling Center at Cranford. The company wishes to lease a building at 27 North Avenue, East, and offer post-detoxification counseling to persons recovering from chemical and alcohol addiction. It is a subsidiary of Sunrise Detox, which operates facilities in New Jersey, New York and Florida. 

The owner of the building and the property at 27 North Avenue, East is Paul G. Argen, who operates MDTV Realty, LLC and is the applicant before the board. Mr. Argen produces medical infomercials. Representing the building owner and the counseling center is Gary Goodman of Cranford. The counseling center wants to take a 10-year lease on the building, which is in a B-Zone, in Cranford’s special improvement district. The applicant seeks a permit to make renovations to the building for the counseling center, which is a permitted use, with a parking waiver requested, and preexisting non-conforming conditions less than the minimum required front- and rear-yard setbacks. 

The building itself sits in the middle of the bustling downtown and has been empty for the past few years; the front door and windows are boarded up. Tax records obtained by The Westfield Leader indicate that the landlord owes $36,484 on the building, and $16,932 on the parking lot across the street. The major concerns expressed by members of the planning board were not about the physical condition of the building, but rather the nature of the counseling center and what it would bring to Cranford. 

Mr. Connelly was questioned for over three hours by the board. He explained that by the time a patient in recovery would come to the outpatient-counseling center, he or she would have been through in-patient detoxification at one of their other facilities or somewhere else. They would be “clean,” he said. He also said that most of the chemically dependent patients had been addicted to oxycontin. 

“There is so much oxicotin produced in the United States that it is enough for every man, woman and child who lives here,” he said. 

Alcohol dependence also would be treated at the Cranford location. Mr. Connelly said the facility would not be anything like a methadone clinic, with people lined up on the street waiting for methadone. “The patients will be working people and business owners; i.e. middle class people, who live real lives, but just messed up,” Mr. Connelly told the board. 

He said there would be about 90 patients a day in and out of the center. 

A concern of board members was whether or not the doctor on-site would be writing prescriptions. On the center’s planning board application it said perhaps, in the future, prescriptions would be written.

 Mr. Connelly said the doctor would not be doing that. Mr. Goodman said it was his mistake when he filled out the application. Mr. Connelly said normally what happens is the patient would be in their Stirling facility as an inpatient for about six days, then take part in an intensive outpatient program for about three weeks.   The patients would have to follow the protocol and meet certain benchmarks before being allowed to take part in the outpatient-counseling program at the Counseling Center at Cranford. 

Planning Board member Rita La Brutta said she objected to the application being just partially filled out, and the mixed testimony on prescriptions. She also objected to the application fee not being paid.

 Board Attorney Nicholas Giuditta said that Robert Hudak, Cranford’s zoning officer, had signed off on the application. This did not satisfy the board members, who had a lot of questions as to the traffic going in and out of the building, which would operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

 Board member Lynda Feder said she would like to see a detailed plan for the counseling center.  Mr. Connelly responded that he would prepare a flow chart for the board. 

Board member Peter Tyler said he would like to see architectural plans at the next meeting.

 In addition, the owner of the salon All About Me, which is a neighbor of the proposed counseling center, wanted to know if patients would be loitering outside smoking cigarettes, noting that some of her clients might be reluctant to come into her shop if there is going to be a “crowd hanging around outside.”

 Resident Gerry Grillo asked about the parking.

 “We don’t have enough parking now. If you have 90 patients a day, and some are in group sessions, some people may overlap into another time period. What about parking then?,” Mr. Grillo asked.

 During the hearing, Mr. Argen agreed to change the lease on the parking lot from two years to 10 years. 

The building is about 6,000 square feet and located across the street is a parking lot that Mr. Argen owns. He said he would allocate 25 spots for the center. The center is willing to pay the township for seven permanent parking permits for employees. Kevin Illing, acting board chairman, asked the applicant to have a full site plan ready for the next meeting, including details about traffic, dumpster, garbage disposal, lighting, signage, sanitary sewer, electricity and landscaping. Mr. Giuditta, to allay the board’s reservations, said no prescription writing could be made a condition of approval. 

The next meeting of the planning board will be held Wednesday, October 3, at the municipal building.