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Zoning clash over drug rehab has hospital wanting automatic transfer; city pushing for public hearing

By Tia Lynn Ivey

News editor

The Morgan Medical Center Hospital (MMC) Authority is pressing forward to secure the sale of the old hospital property to a drug rehabilitation center, despite the City of Madison pumping the brakes on the deal.

A zoning dispute is heating up between the City of Madison and the MMC hospital authority that will likely end up in court. A lawsuit against the City of Madison is not off the table, according to the Morgan Medical Center’s (MMC) hospital authority.

“While we respect the City’s zoning process, we believe the hospital has a legal right to transfer its use of the property to another medical facility. As citizens who live and work in Madison, we want what’s best for our community and are eager to achieve a timely resolution that allows us to move forward with the sale of this property to a responsible buyer,” said a statement from the MMC hospital authority.

The MMC hospital authority is standing firm in their position, after the City of Madison declined to issue a certification letter in order for the authority to move forward with the sale of the old Morgan Memorial Hospital property on South Main Street in Madison. The authority is hoping to sell the property to Flashpoint Recovery, a high-end drug rehabilitation company, planning to transform the property to look like a “five-star resort” and provide pricey inpatient care to the tune of $35,000 to $45,000 per month.

Madison Mayor Fred Perriman issued a lengthy public statement at the last city council meeting on Feb. 8, revealing the hospital threatened legal action against the city if they refused to issue the certification letter. Perriman said that the city would take on any legal battle launched by the hospital authority.

“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. 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 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.

MMC CEO Ralph Castillo vouched for the drug rehab company when the idea was first pitched to the council back in January.

Castillo and other hospital leaders promised that the Flashpoint Recovery would be a beneficial addition to the entire community, investing millions to revamp the old hospital building, creating 60 new jobs, adding significant new tax revenue for the city, as well as yielding significant economic impact from new employees and visiting families utilizing restaurants, shops, and hotels.

“If we did not believe our current prospective purchaser would be a welcomed addition to Madison, we would not engage with this purchaser and we would not be here today,” said Castillo in January.

Castillo described Flashpoint Recovery as a luxurious facility that would feature tennis courts, pools, yoga classes, martial arts classes, custom landscaping, and above all, exclusivity.

“Clientele tends to be seeking strict anonymity,” said Castillo. “Flashpoint does not provide out-patient services. There will not be a continuous stream of patient-traffic in and out of that building. You are a resident of the hospital until your treatment is complete.”

According to Castillo, Flashpoint intends to spend $3 million dollars on renovating the old Morgan Memorial Hospital building, located at 1077 S. Main St., in Madison. Castillo estimated that once up and running, the project would add $5 million to Madison’s tax base.

According to Perriman, the city does not necessarily object to the drug rehab project, but will not allow any “shortcuts” in the zoning process to accommodate the sale.

“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.

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