By JOHN T. WARD
Governor Chris Christie clashed with protesters at the opening of an addiction-counseling center in Shrewsbury Thursday, taunting them as “ignorant” NIMBYs whose children would someday need the facility.
With neighbors of the new Seabrook House outpatient center chanting “not by the school,” in reference to the borough K-8 about 200 yards away, Christie repeatedly “guaranteed” that some of the school’s current students will need similar services.
“What I will guarantee you is, that kids in that school, [as indicated] by all the statistics in New Jersey, will need drug and alcohol treatment,” Christie said to a cluster of protesters gathered in a nearby parking lot. “And you will be the same people who complain that there’s not enough” help for them, he said.
With protestors raising their volume, Christie shouted, “this ignorant, NIMBY attitude will not be stood for in New Jersey, but we are going to help people who need to be helped despite your ignorance and your intolerance.”
The opening of the center, which Seabrook officials said would offer only individual and group counseling services, emerged a flash point in recent days, when Seabrook installed its signage in front of a long-vacant building, located between a strip mall and a medical office building just off Broad Street.
Mayor Donald Burden, who spoke at the opening, told redbankgreen that he agreed that the location of the facility was “a concern,” but said Seabrook had made appropriate filings last year with the borough zoning, which found it in compliance with zoning ordinances. No variances, and thus no hearings, were needed, he said.
With an opioid addiction crisis underway, he said, “we need resources to help out.”
Christie has made the opioid plague one of his top agenda items as he closes out his second term as governor, and was recently appointed by President Donald Trump to chair a presidential commission on the problem nationwide.
According to Seabrook president Ed Diehl, whose late parents founded the nonprofit in 1974, its facilities peacefully co-exist with neighbors in Bridgeton, where it offers both inpatient and outpatient services, as well as Cherry Hill, Northfield and Morristown.
The Northfield facility is “right across the street from an elementary school” and has had “not one incident” in five years of operation, he told redbankgreen.
Protesters said they did not object to the existence of the facility — only its location near the school. Two other similar facilities are already located in the borough, they said, and are not an issue because they’re not near schools.
Additionally, one woman who declined to give her name told redbankgreen that the borough planning office was made aware only this week that Seabrook would be offering group counseling, which she said was not permitted in the zone. She said the zoning office had since informed Seabrook of a violation.
The accuracy of her statement could not be immediately verified. Burden said he was not aware of any conflict with the zoning law except for a possible issue with the sign out front.
Diehl told reporters he was confident that every aspect of the operation was made known to the zoning office when Seabrook filed an application to set up shop last year, including the group sessions, and that a permit was granted to operate without the need for any variances. But if new issues have arisen, he said, Seabrook would address them.
The objections regarding the school, he said, were based on a “gross misunderstanding.”
“Nobody here is intoxicated,” he said. “They’re as sober as you and I. They come here for individual and group counseling and education, often after undergoing a residential program. They come here for continuing care for a period of several months as they integrate back into their home communities.”
Group sessions involve about eight patients at a time, with no more than two groups conducted in the two-story facility at the same time, he said, adding that the building has sufficient parking on-site for clients.
He said the facility plans to host an open house for neighbors.