New snag for needle exchange?

  • The Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on the corner of Federal and Church streets in Greenfield will host a needle exchange program operated by Tapestry, formerly Tapestry Health. Recorder File PhotoPaul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/16/2017 11:15:34 PM

GREENFIELD — Tapestry Health might have a new hurdle to face less than week after finding a permanent space for its needle exchange. 

Town Council Vice President Isaac Mass, who led a push to regulate needle exchange in Greenfield but then backed off, emailed Mayor William Martin Tuesday to ask him whether Tapestry would need a special permit to operate its harm-reduction program at the Episcopal Church of Saint James and Andrew on Church Street.

“I have no position on a special permit at that location, but feel that the process should be followed if required,” Mass said in an email to the mayor, about this town zoning question.

Although the answer remains unclear at the moment, the question is whether Tapestry’s needle exchange program is a medical center. If so, the organization with similar programs running in cities across the region, would likely need to apply for a special permit for its new Greenfield location.

Tapestry’s Director of HIV Health and Prevention Liz Whynott said at Wednesday night’s Greenfield Board of Health meeting that the services Tapestry is providing at the needle exchange program in Greenfield fall under counseling, not medical, services.

Whynott did say that it’s possible in the future her agency may want to provide medical services at the center — beyond the program’s distribution of clean needles, collection of dirty ones, counseling on overdoses and referrals for treatment — but at the moment there is no plan to do so.

“I’ve seen this as a very long process, and providing everything on site is the best thing, but we just don’t do that yet,” Whynott said at the Board of Health meeting. She added that there are no nurses or medical staff at the needle exchange location; just social services employees.

The question around a special permit though is a bit more complicated. Mass pointed out in his email that a constituent asked him about the legality of the Tapestry running the program, if it is offering medical services.

The location at the church, just across Federal Street from nonprofit The RECOVER Project, is located in the town’s Central Commerce District. This means that under the current zoning, Tapestry would need a special permit to allow it to function as a medical center or clinic.

Furthermore, Mass raised the question of whether this program running out of a church would influence the rules and possibly provide an exemption in this case. He deferred to the director of Greenfield’s Department of Planning and Development Board Eric Twarog.

Twarog said Thursday afternoon he is waiting to speak with Mark Snow, the town’s building inspector and head of zoning enforcement. Once he speaks with Snow and gets further clarification on whether Tapestry needs a special permit for its services, then they can move forward. For now though, no action will be taken by Twarog.

The process to apply for a special permit takes about 60 days, Twarog said. He said that in general if a business did not know it needed a special permit, the town may be forgiving and willing to work with them after the fact, but if instead they tried to circumvent the law, then a different approach might be applied.

More generally, Mass said in his email, that he thinks it could be a good idea for the town to reconsider its current zoning on special permits for medical centers in the downtown area.

“Finally, Mayor Martin, given your active promotion of health care facilities in the downtown, perhaps it is time to amend the use table to allow this use by right and not special permit in the Central Commercial District,” Mass said.

Twarog said the planning board has been reviewing the zoning codes that were last updated in 1989 and that he would likely add this to the list of considerations, given the nature of the ever-changing use of a downtown in today’s economy.

“Downtowns have to reinvent themselves and sometimes retail is not a part of that,” Twarog said. “The dynamic of this part of a downtown, and throughout the entire United States, is changing, so I think it is a good thing to look at it.”

Reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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