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Baltimore drug treatment facility, denied an operating permit, asks judge to step in

A drug treatment facility has turned to the courts in an effort to open its doors — over the objections of Baltimore city officials who denied a critical permit this year.

The facility’s owner, CMDS Residential, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction last week that, if granted, would force the city to issue a use and occupancy permit and allow the 136-bed treatment center to open.

The request for an injunction is a new escalation in a lawsuit that CMDS first filed in July. The complaint alleged that the city violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Americans with Disabilities Act by denying a permit to the facility, which would be called Fayette House.

“My client seeks a court order requiring the city to let it open and let it offer lifesaving treatment to up to 136 suffering Baltimoreans who need that treatment,” said Harris Eisenstein, an attorney for CMDS Residential.

A city spokesperson did not respond to an email requesting comment.

CMDS Residential accused the city in its complaint of giving in to “community members harboring prejudice against recovering addicts” who would use the proposed facility at 6040 Harford Road.

“The community’s abhorrent views have delayed life-saving treatment to hundreds of Baltimoreans long enough,” CMDS wrote in its motion for an injunction. “The delay should not continue another day.”

CMDS claims in the motion that Zoning Administrator Geoffrey Veale knew in 2018 that the company intended to use the Harford Road property for substance abuse treatment services and confirmed in writing that CMDS could use the property as planned.

CMDS bought the property for $1.7 million and spent another $2.5 million to renovate the building, which had previously been used as a nursing home and as an adult day facility, according to the motion.

When CMDS applied for a use and operating permit in early 2020 and again later that year, Veale denied the application, according to the motion, and referred CMDS to the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals.

The board denied CMDS’s appeal in May 2021 and said the company would need approval to open through a City Council ordinance.

CMDS alleged that the city surrendered to community pressure to block the treatment facility from opening because of concerns about its clientele. Members of an area neighborhood association mounted a campaign to oppose Fayette House and lobby city officials to block the treatment center from opening, in part because of its proximity to an elementary/middle school, the complaint claims.

“The only plausible explanation for the City abandoning the position expressed in (2018) … is that the City changed course to mollify community members who harbored stereotypical fears about the negative impact recovering addicts might have on their neighborhood,” CMDS wrote in the motion.

In a motion to dismiss CMDS’s lawsuit, the city’s attorneys said the denial was based on “a simple application of the Baltimore City Code.”

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has not ruled on the motion for a preliminary injunction, and the city had not filed its response as of Tuesday evening.