County backs off talk of rezoning

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer


Existing methadone dispensaries in Norfolk County would be exempt from any zoning change forbidding them in downtown cores.

As such, Norfolk council has abandoned the idea of forbidding methadone clinics in retail and commercial areas.

At Tuesday’s meeting of Norfolk council, senior planner Mat Vaughan said existing clinics in downtown Simcoe and elsewhere would be grandfathered as “a legal non-conforming use” under any zoning change.

This is based on the principle that a legal land use in Ontario cannot be repealed on the basis of new zoning regulations.

Vaughan also warned that any attempt to restrict methadone therapy in areas zoned for medical services would likely prompt a challenge from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The OHRC defines drug addiction as a disability similar to needing a wheelchair or experiencing hearing loss.

Council decided to drop the issue, but not without some pointed remarks on how this medical service is delivered locally.

Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt noted that Norfolk General Hospital and the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit deliver a number of out-patient type services.

Yet when it comes to opioid-replacement therapy, clinics are situated cheek-by-jowl with retail and commercial establishments that rely on steady consumer traffic. Methadone clinics are an issue for the county because adjoining businesses have closed and stay closed wherever they are established.

Simcoe Coun. Doug Brunton said it is frustrating trying to revitalize struggling downtowns in Norfolk when uses are introduced that discourage consumer activity.

“Are we at all helping these people?” Brunton asked. “Is anyone here getting off these opioids? It certainly hasn’t helped our downtowns.

“We’re trying to revitalize our downtowns but it’s a sad state of affairs. Maybe we’ll get another clinic. There seems to be a lot of business down there.”

There are seven different zoning provisions in Norfolk County that allow for medical services.

Windham Coun. Jim Oliver thought it odd that the county could run afoul of the province by exempting its primary retail areas from medical services that discourage commercial activity.

CAO David Cribbs explained that municipalities can impose most any land-use restrictions they wish provided they have objective evidence to support them. Cribbs added it is difficult to make land-use restrictions stick when it comes to the delivery of legal services.

Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus said relocating methadone clinics to peripheral areas might solve some of the problems in Norfolk’s struggling downtowns. However, he said that would likely create a new set of issues for the county to contend with.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid prescribed to people who are addicted to narcotics such as codeine, heroin, fentanyl and morphine. With an opioid treatment program, the dosage is gradually reduced until the addict is free of their cravings.

There are two methadone clinics in downtown Simcoe in close proximity to each other. In recent years, adjoining businesses have closed. Proprietors have complained that shoppers avoid areas where methadone therapy is delivered.