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Crawford House Could Become a Detox Facility, But Not If Community Members Have a Say About It

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted January 21, 2023

Kevin Reisch and the Woodmont Treatment Center LLC are requesting a variance to use the former Crawford House property at 362 Sunset Road in Montgomery as a residential detox center. Local residents, however, do not want a 22-bed detox center in their backyards — citing multiple reasons.

Objectors plan to attend the January 24th Montgomery Township Zoning Board at 7 pm at the Montgomery Township Municipal Center on Orchard Road to make their positions known. About 40 neighbors attended the December meeting on this application.

Safety is a main concern, according to Janet Church, who sent an email to The Montgomery News presenting the neighbor's concerns. Crawford House was started in 1978, before housing was built around it. Now there are family homes right up to the property line, she says. The facility is also within walking distance of Montgomery schools.

A sketch of Crawford House, which was a 23-bed halfway house in Montgomery Township for homeless women recovering from substance abuse. It closed in January 2021.

For more than 40 years, Crawford House provided a comprehensive individualized program for women, aged 18 years and over, who were residents of New Jersey, homeless, indigent, and free from substance use for at least 14 days.

Based on the 12-step model, Crawford House provided physical, emotional, and spiritual healing for women in a safe and mutually-supportive community. It also provided women with the education, treatment, and knowledge of how to use community support systems so they could achieve and maintain a substance-free lifestyle, according to the facility's website.

In 2015, Crawford House became part of the Daytop New Jersey network, which operated six adult and adolescent outpatient programs and two halfway houses including Crawford House. Daytop merged with ACENDA Integrated Health, based in Glassboro, in 2020. ACENDA closed the facility.

Kevin Reisch and the Woodmont Treatment Center LLC —the applicants — propose using two existing historic buildings on the 13-acre wooded property as a drug and alcohol detox facility for men and women.

“It would be a private health insurance facility. The individuals there — lawyers, doctors, engineers, pilots — would be there of their own accord. No one would be mandated to be there,” Attorney Michael J. Lario Jr. told the zoning board on behalf of his clients at the December meeting. “They would be using their private insurance to reside and seek treatment at this residence.”

Once the patients are there, they would not be allowed to “come and go” from the site. In other words, when they are there, they go through the detox and in-patient process and will be restricted to the building.

The buildings at the former Crawford House site have sat empty since January 2021, when it closed.

One of the buildings at the former Crawford House site on Sunset Road.

The Proposed Plan

Reisch, a resident of North Arlington, has a contract to purchase the former Crawford House. He is the owner of Daytop Village of NJ, based in Mendham, according to the zoning board application. He proposes major interior renovations to the building, costing between $500,000 and $1 million.

Woodmont LLC, an eight-month-old limited-liability company created on May 3 by Tyler Kempson of Sparta, by would operate the proposed treatment center as a 22-bed detox and in-patient treatment residence. Woodmont is contending that because its proposal is a preexisting use, no formal application for use variance is required under state land use law.

Tyler Kempson

According to Kempson's website, he is a certified peer recovery coach who struggled with addiction in his teenage years. After multiple rehab stints, he started his recovery journey at 20 years old. Since then, he has helped build a recovery community in northern New Jersey. He earned a bachelor's degree at William Paterson University. He opened Absolute Awakenings Treatment Center, where he and his staff treat the following substance addictions: Alcohol, Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin), Cocaine, Heroin, Opioids, and more.

Kempson's company also treats accompanying mental disorders, including schizophrenia, depression, bipolar, anxiety, and ADD/ADHD.

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Neighbor Objections in More Detail

Using the property as a detox center rather than a half-way house for women has multiple issues, according to Janet Church. She says:

  • Use will be for patients in detox (the first step in recovery), not as halfway house for patients further along in treatment. (Crawford House was for residents who were free from drugs for 14 days, and usually longer).

  • The detox center would be for women and men. Crawford House was for women only. (Originally for women in alcohol recovery only.)

  • There will be pharmaceuticals on site.

  • A nurse will be required on site.

  • Men and women in the detox center would have no security to monitor their comings and goings within the community. They are not supposed to leave, but nothing is stopping them. These are patients in full-on detox.

  • The Crawford House residents were incentivized to stay. About 95 percent of them were there under court order and feared calls to their parole officer. There is nothing to keep these proposed private insurance detox patients from leaving the facility or breaking rules

Church adds that there are an "enormous number of empty commercial properties in more suitable areas in the state of New Jersey — even within [Montgomery] Township."

She also cited "false, questionable statements made by the applicant. According to Church, applicant:

  • Gave no specific stats on shortage of these facilities in NJ for privately insured patients.

  • The applicant said he was not aware of location of a detox facility in the area, let alone the township, however, Carrier Clinic just a few miles away. It is a fenced, locked facility. Also, Princeton Detox & Recovery Center and Princeton Behavioral Health are nearby.

  • Crawford House did not allow for residents to leave the facility according to the former Crawford House director — however, they were seen out on daily walks in the community, even by the police.

  • The applicant said, “Once the patients are there, they would not be allowed to come and go from the site." In other words, when they are there, they go through the detox and in-patient process and will be restricted to the building. This was countered by the applicant saying they could go outside for smoking breaks. Then saying the residents can leave. Nothing to stop them.

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Vanguard Treatment

Attorney Lario told the Zoning Board that Montgomery township was ahead of its time when it approved one of the state’s first treatment centers for drug and alcohol addiction.

“In 1977, the township had approved a use variance for this site to allow a half-way house for women in recovery from the disease of addiction,” he said. “The Betty Ford Clinic, which put these facilities in the mainstream, didn’t open until 1982. I say that, because Montgomery Township was on the vanguard when it came to realizing the importance of these facilities.”

“And way back then, it fought to have one of these facilities in its community. And I say fought because a neighbor appealed that approval, and Montgomery Township went to court to allow the approval to remain — and the township won.” That was for the establishment of the Crawford House.

Is a neighborhood the best place for detox patients though?

At the time, of the Crawford House closing, a source close to the story told The Montgomery News that, “Apparently the financial stresses that have long frustrated addiction recovery programs – principally, extremely low federal and state reimbursement rates – have become a much bigger problem during the pandemic, such that occupancy at Crawford House has fallen below 50 percent, making it basically impossible to keep the doors open.”

Perhaps privately insured patients will better be able to afford the treatment. If the substance abusers still have private health insurance, perhaps they have not yet hit the rock bottom. One wonders why the healthcare system could not provide for the women of Crawford House. ■


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