By Tia Lynn Ivey
A heated legal battle may be on the horizon between the City of Madison and the Morgan Medical Center Hospital Authority over a potential buyer aiming to transform the old hospital property into an inpatient drug rehabilitation facility.
Madison Mayor Fred Perriman made a public announcement at Monday’s city council meeting, declaring that the city would not issue a certification letter requested by the hospital authority and Flashpoint Recovery – a high-end drug rehab – to preemptively approve the use of a drug rehabilitation facility at the site of the old Morgan Memorial Hospital at 1077 South Main Street in Madison. Perriman also stated that the city was informed by the hospital authority that if they did not issue the certification letter, a lawsuit would be filed with the superior court to settle the matter.
“We would vigorously oppose such a lawsuit,” said Perriman.
The dispute centers around the city’s zoning ordinance and whether or not a drug rehabilitation hospital can operate out of the old Morgan Memorial Hospital building without a zoning change or conditional use permit. According to Perriman, the hospital authority and the prospective buyer, Mitch Baumann of Flashpoint Recovery, want to bypass the city’s zoning process by pressing city leaders to issue a “certification letter” declaring a drug rehabilitation hospital an automatic allowable use for the property.
The hospital authority believes they have a legal right to automatically transfer the “non-conforming use,” which allowed the old hospital to operate in the city’s P1 zone, to a drug rehabilitation hospital, claiming it is a “continuation” since some drug rehabilitation treatment was conducted at the old hospital.
But city leaders aren’t so sure.
“Is stabilizing patients and transferring them out for further drug treatment the same use as inpatient drug rehabilitation?” asked a skeptical Perriman. “The city again disagrees with that argument for the reason that there is no evidence that Morgan Memorial conducted in-house drug rehabilitation at the old hospital.”
Perriman said the city would not compromise its zoning process at the behest of a prospective buyer who is “unwilling to comply” with the city’s regulations and standards.
“Based on the law and the facts as we understand them, the mayor and council believe that a drug rehabilitation hospital in P1 would require either a zoning change or a conditional use permit,” said Perriman. “We believe we owe it to our citizens to defend our right to have public input on whether or not to allow a drug rehabilitation hospital to operate in the P1 district.”
Perriman praised the new hospital, expressing gratitude for the “value it brings to the community,” but stood firm in the city’s decision to decline issuing a certification letter.
“We know that selling that property is important – it’s important to the hospital authority and the county as a whole. We hope they will be able to sell the property soon, but at the same time, the mayor and council have a duty to protect the interests of the citizens of Madison. We have no right to disregard our zoning ordinance simply to accommodate a buyer who is unwilling to submit to our zoning process and we do not intend to do so. We do not believe it is fair to either the city or the hospital authority for a buyer to refuse to comply with our zoning ordinance.”
Perriman said the ordinance requires a public hearing before the city can act and the city has the right to put in place various conditions on a property in order to “protect the interests of the citizens of Madison.”
“For those reasons we intend to enforce our zoning ordinance as we understand it,” said Perriman.