MANHATTAN - A Midtown community board has welcomed a controversial Gramercy methadone clinic with open arms, saying substance-abuse facilities face an "unfair stigma."
Midtown's Community Board 5 approved Gramercy Park Services' plan to move its substance-abuse treatment facility from Third Avenue between East 20th and 21st streets to 500 Eighth Ave., between West 35th and 36th streets.
The area already features at least two substance-abuse facilities in a two block radius: 500 Eighth Ave. houses the Daytop Village substance-abuse clinic, and there is a needle exchange center located a block away, on West 37th Street and Eighth Avenue.
Community board members said they made the decision because there are so few residential apartments nearby. The clinic is by appointment only, and no business owners or residents attended the committee meeting to speak either for or against the clinic, she added.
"We really felt that the stigma associated with substance abuse is an unfair stigma ... They are providing a very important service, and we're happy they are in our community," said Layla Law-Gisiko, chairwoman of the CB5's education, housing and human services committee, which reviewed the clinic's request.
"We surely don't want to advertise ourselves as the dumping ground for substance-abuse clinics, but we really felt that this particular applicant had really done its due diligence."
But the growing number of clinics in the surrounding area has alarmed some local businesses who have already complained to police about existing problems with drinking and drug dealing they believe to be tied to clinic patients.
Vincent Massarelli, owner of the V-Productions modeling agency and fashion production company on West 36th Street near Eighth Avenue, has raised his concerns with officers from the Midtown South precinct after vagrants he believed were attracted by the clinics harassed his coworkers and clients.
He said he has seen significant improvement since police increased their presence on his block.
But when told about the impending arrival of a new facility, Massarelli said he was worried the problems would return.
"We're fighting what we have now, but another one coming to the neighborhood would probably increase more issues," Massarelli said.
"You battle, you battle, you battle," he added. "You want to clean up the neighborhood, and the city comes back and says we're going to approve this and approve that."
A police source said the NYPD has arrested some people headed for the Midtown clinics, largely for quality of life crimes. But the source said arrests in the area are by no means limited to those frequenting substance abuse facilities, he added.
Still, other neighborhoods have echoed Massarelli's concerns.
Gramercy Park Services decided to move from its Third Avenue location - a second-story space in a walkup - in order to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
But the four-decade-old Gramercy Park Services encountered vociferous community opposition when it attempted to move to locations in Gramercy, Tudor City and Downtown.
Hundreds of people signed a petition last year barring the clinic from Downtown, and members of Community Board 1 voted unanimously against the move, leading the clinic to pull out of its bid for a space on Maiden Lane.
"We're not necessarily concerned about the patients - I'm concerned about drug dealers looming to prey on the patients in their weakened state," Linda Gerstman, who spoke against the project on behalf of the 382-unit condo building at 15 Broad St., said at the time.
Mark Thompson, chairman of Community Board 6, the district where the clinic is currently located, said the facility has not been a source of 311 or police complaints. However, the community resisted plans to move it elsewhere in the district.
"We did have serious concerns about how they undertook the process to locate a new facility and the difficulties they had while interacting with the community and potential neighbors," Thompson said, adding that the only time the clinic popped up on the board's radar was when it attempted to find a new location in 2011.
Opponents of the clinic's proposed locations near Tudor City and on East 19th Street expressed fears that a clinic meant to treat drug addicts would negatively impact their neighborhoods.
Representatives from Gramercy Park Services were not immediately available for comment.