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City could get drug counseling clinic

VERGENNES — A new counseling office for patients who are suffering addiction to alcohol or opioids has been proposed for downtown Vergennes, the Vergennes City Council learned at its meeting Tuesday evening. Alderman Bill Benton said the business, as he understood it, would prescribe, but not actually dispense, drugs intended to help patients cope with those addictions.
Benton said the company proposing the office, SaVida Health, had approached him about renting space he had available, and other officials confirmed the company had turned its attention to the Main Street space most recently occupied by the Creative Space Gallery.
The news put to bed rumors that a methadone clinic had been proposed for Main Street.
The issue was on the agenda because Alderman David Austin had heard the rumors, and he was concerned about the potential impact of such a clinic on the city’s downtown. He cited potential loss of tax revenue to a nonprofit entity, the effect on property values to surrounding buildings, and the loss of a valuable downtown retail space.
“I’m sure it is going to be benefit them (heroin addicts),” Austin said, “but it will be a net economic loss to the city of Vergennes.”
But Alderman Benton and others clarified that what was being proposed. The SaVida Health official who approached him said the office would be “a net positive,” for the city, Benton said.
City Manager Matt Chabot provided a handout that said SaVida planned to see one to eight patients daily, by appointment only, with a staff of three. According to the company handout, it provides “medication assisted treatment … for those struggling with opioid and/or alcohol use disorder.” Treatment includes prescribing buprenorphine and naltrexone because “research shows a combination of medication and therapy” can be effective.
The company has approached the Vergennes Development Review Board to seek approval as an office in the Central Business District (CBD); “Office” is a permitted use in the district.
Council members had mixed feelings about the proposed use, while acknowledging it was a DRB decision.
Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly said the CBD district is intended to encourage needed retail uses.
“We worked very hard on the Central Business District,” Donnelly said. “It doesn’t meet the intent of the district.”
Others argued that as the regional hub Vergennes should consider hosting an addiction counseling facility, although possibly not on Main Street. Mayor Jeff Fritz said, “It makes sense for Vergennes” to do so, and Aldermen Mark Koenig spoke along the same lines.
“I don’t want to fall down a NIMBY path,” Koenig said.
Ultimately, the council adopted a wait-and-see approach.
“I agree the DRB will take care of this issue,” Fritz said.
And Austin agreed the clarification was good news.
“I have significantly less concern about a counseling facility,” he said. “Getting into dispensing methadone or suboxone, that’s an entirely different scenario.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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