Jacqueline Caldwell sat on the front steps of her West Baltimore rowhouse and pointed out the homes along a tidy street dotted by rose bushes where generations of Black families have lived. A few blocks away, across from a strip of vacant and burned-out buildings, a medical center with a methadone clinic is nearly ready to open.

Caldwell tried to find the right words to describe people addicted to opioids.

“I don’t to want to say, ‘those people,’” said Caldwell, who has made it her mission to prevent the center from opening. “I don’t want people coming from there, falling on my mother’s lawn.”

Jacqueline Caldwell says she has lived in this home in the Whittier-Monroe neighborhood since she was 4 years old.

For people addicted to opioids, one of the strongest tools to curb cravings and keep them alive is a medication called methadone. That line of care often involves daily visits to a clinic for an on-site dose. With fentanyl killing residents at historically high rates, the Baltimore region faces a tough question: Where should these clinics be located?

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Why not Roland Park or Pikesville? Caldwell asks. Why her neighborhood?

Caldwell is a lifelong resident of the Whittier-Monroe neighborhood near Mondawmin Mall and is president of its community association. Last fall, she learned from her brother that the old auto parts warehouse a few blocks away was slated to become a clinic that administers methadone.

Charm City Medical Center plans to open in about six weeks and will offer primary care, therapy, addiction counseling and a host of other services, said Dr. Devesh Kanjarpane, the owner. The $8 million center will employ 60-70 people, he said. And, yes, it will include a methadone clinic.

Neighbors are waging an uphill battle to block the center from opening.

Councilman James Torrence introduced a bill in October that would rezone the address in the 2200 block of Reisterstown Road. The City Council, which meets Wednesday night, could vote on the issue at any upcoming meeting. Even if the rezoning is approved, some city planning commissioners said it would come too late to stop Charm City Medical Center.

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When the matter came before the planning commission in mid-April, Torrence tried to present it as a mundane zoning issue related to the area’s master plan. But any pretense disappeared the moment residents began speaking up.

“If it didn’t have addiction services with it, we probably wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Caldwell told the planning commission. “If it’s such a great idea, put it where your mother lives.”

Joseph Brown, owner of a funeral parlor next door to the medical center, told the commission he would need to install a chain-link fence and possibly hire private security to protect his business.

“I’m afraid I’m going to lose some business because I’m right next door to — and I hate to say — a methadone clinic,” Brown said.

The meeting stretched two hours and became heated at times, as speakers questioned each other’s motives.

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While drug treatment centers often are stigmatized as crime magnets, academic research suggests that’s an undeserved reputation. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studied the issue in Baltimore for a 2016 paper titled “Not In My Back Yard.”

They found that while convenience, corner and liquor stores can attract violent crime, drug treatment centers — including clinics that administer methadone — did not.

Another group of researchers studied 15 years of real estate data in Seattle and found in 2019 that the opening or closure of a drug treatment center did not affect nearby property values.

One reason is because the facilities were primarily located in areas of Seattle where property values were already low, said one of the co-authors, Catherine Maclean, an associate professor at George Mason University. The research couldn’t show what happened when a drug treatment center opened in wealthy neighborhoods with high property values because that didn’t happen, she said.

To dispense methadone, a clinic must have an opioid treatment program that is certified by the federal government. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, there are opioid treatment programs at 40 locations scattered across Baltimore, often at or near hospitals.

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Affordability was part of why Kanjarpane decided to open Charm City Medical Center in the 2200 block of Reisterstown Road. The low property price, as well as its proximity to the public transit options in Mondawmin, made it a great location, he said.

Dr. Devesh Kanjarpane says he has invested years and millions of dollars turning the site of a former auto parts warehouse in West Baltimore into a medical center.

He also said he has a strong desire to help people, especially those who are struggling with addiction. Kanjarpane lives in Howard County and has been a licensed physician in Maryland since 1990. He said he has worked in Baltimore and the D.C. area for decades, some of it focusing on addiction treatment.

Kanjarpane met with a group of West Baltimore residents soon after they learned about his incoming medical center. About 50 people attended — and no one was in favor of it, Caldwell said. Kanjarpane should have reached out to the community from the outset, she said.

Kanjarpane said he will prove to residents that this medical center will be a community asset.

Walking through the 18,000-square-foot facility one recent afternoon, he pointed out the brightly colored rooms, the noise-deadening insulation, the facial recognition technology, and more — all designed to create a welcoming, but secure space.

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Kanjarpane compared the area where methadone will be administered to the cashier’s counter at a casino. Four cameras at each of the five seats along a counter ensure that the right person is taking correct dosage, he said. A thick pane of glass separates patients from the workers, the medication is stored in two large safes in an adjoining room, and there will be security guards on site.

“We want to create a positive image and take that responsibility,” Kanjarpane said.

As the owner and chief medical officer of Charm City Health Center, Dr. Devesh Kanjarpane said he will have an office on site. (Giacomo Bologna)

He delivered a similar message to the planning commission in mid-April, but the commission wasn’t convinced.

Commissioners voted 6-2 to recommend the rezoning bill to the City Council. Some of the commissioners said any rezoning attempt comes too late to affect Charm City Medical Center. The city has already approved multiple construction and use permits for the property, meaning zoning changes would only apply to future permits.

“This is one of those damned if do, damned if you don’t,” said Sean Davis, chairman of the planning commission. “Nobody wants to have a drug treatment facility in their neighborhood, but it’s permitted by right.”

Giacomo "Jack" Bologna covers business and development at The Baltimore Banner.

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