Harlem Pushes Back On Methadone Clinic Planned In $4M Brownstone

Brendan Krisel

July 13, 2018

Originally published in Patch on July 13, 2018.

Neighbors of the planned methadone clinic worry it will bring drug dealing to their historic district.

HARLEM, NY — Dozens of residents of the historic Sugar Hill section of Harlem stood in front of a brownstone Thursday night to denounce plans to build a methadone clinic in the building.

Concerned neighbors and local elected officials said the historic block — a stretch of St. Nicholas Avenue between West 146th and 147th streets full of small businesses and brownstone residences — was an inappropriate location for the drug treatment facility.

Officials said that they would fight to ensure that the service provide Argus Community, Inc. would not be granted a license by the state to operate a methadone clinic out of 730 Saint Nicholas Ave. The company bought the brownstone building for $4.3 million in August of 2017 and reportedly started conversion work on Wednesday.

Nina Simmons, who lives next door to the planned facility, said she's worried that living next door to a methadone clinic will make the block unsafe for her young son Aidan. Simmons, who has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years, said she only heard about the plans to building the clinic in May when a block association slid a flyer under her door.

"This is a community that we call home. If my son runs away everybody says 'Aidan stop,'" Simmons said. "Even though it's only a couple of blocks it's like a family, so we just don't want that. And we have enough in the area as it is."

Simmons also said it was "unfair" that yet another drug facility is planned for Harlem, which currently contains a disproportionate amount of similar facilities in Manhattan — a sentiment that was echoed by the Sugar Hill Concerned Neighbors Group and elected officials.

Elected officials made their message clear Thursday: They aren't opposed to drug treatment facilities in general, but felt that Argus wasn't honest about its intentions for the 730 Saint Nicholas Ave. site.

"Converting a brownstone on a residential block in a protected historic district into yet another drug treatment facility isn't fair to this neighborhood, which already hosts more than a fair share of such sites," Borough President Gale Brewer said. "These facilities should be sited after an open, honest conversation about where the need really is. That conversation didn't happen here, Argus wasn't up-front about its intentions for this property, and that's why we're fighting back."

Officials said Thursday that 13 of the 29 methadone clinics in Manhattan are located in Harlem.

State Senator Brian Benjamin and State Assemblyman Al Taylor both said officials have begun talks with the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services — which would have to grant Argus permission to build the clinic — in an attempt to halt Argus' plans.

The state office has the power to override votes and recommendations from the local community board, the mayor's office and the department of health when deciding whether to grant Argus a license, Benjamin said.

"But I don't think they can override 500 people out here saying 'not in my neighborhood' and whatever it takes to get that done we're going to need each of you and all your neighbors to drive home the point this is unacceptable," Benjamin said. "We will not rest until we find another place to service Argus."

Many residents voiced concern Thursday that building a methadone clinic would reverse decades of hard work by long-time residents to build up the area following the drug epidemic that plagued the area from the 1970s to the 1990s.

The Sugar Hill Concerned Neighbors Group also voiced fears about Argus' operations in other parts of the city. A man named Sean Hill spoke Thursday about the company's facility on Madison Avenue and East 128th Street, calling it a "nightmare."

"We have noticed a huge increase in drug dealing," Hill said. "Neighbors have had to deal with a lot of people passed out on the street, defection, urination. It becomes a hangout for people to use the clinic as well as their friends and the people who want to sell to them."

Padmore John, the chair of Community Bard 9, said Thursday that when Argus initially approached the board there was not indication 730 Saint Nicholas Ave. would become a methadone clinic. It wasn't until a May community board meeting that Argus revealed its full plan for the site. 

Argus Community, Inc. did not immediately return Patch's request for comment.