Bellino confirms work underway on rehab center

Tom Flannery Staff Writer
Just Believe Recovery Center CEO Cindy Bellino, at far right, first outlined her plans to the public for a drug and alcohol treatment center at the former Marian Community Hospital during this Meet & Greet which took place at Pioneer Plaza in February, with help from her clinical and legal team members who were on hand. Team members included, from left, facilities clinical director Sandra Palmer, project director Dr. George Chu, chief marketing officer Wayne Stewart, and Atty. Joel Wolff.

When the city zoning board ruled against her proposed drug and alcohol rehabilitation center at the former Marian Community Hospital earlier this year, Cindy Bellino immediately announced her intention to appeal the decision.

She also predicted that she would ultimately prevail in court.

Well, Bellino moved quickly in filing that appeal and now it looks like she has indeed prevailed in the case — barring further action by the other side.

On Friday, Nov. 21, visiting Judge John Braxton of Philadelphia ruled that the zoning board lacked proper evidence when it voted in March to deny Bellino’s request for a variance. Bellino needs the variance in order to operate the rehab center in a residential (R2) zone.

“As it happened, the judge’s ruling was issued on the same day we closed on the [Marian Community] property, so it was a very exciting day for us,” she told the NEWS enthusiastically.

She stated that she will be meeting with her team in Carbondale over this upcoming weekend. In the meantime, she said work on the former hospital building is moving forward.

“We’re not doing any construction right now because we really don’t have to,” she offered, “but we’re doing a lot of painting and cleaning the carpets. We’ll be getting all of our bedding from Wallis Furniture and I’m talking to Mazza Linen about handling all of our linens. I want to do all of our business locally, keep it right here in town as much as I can.”

Bellino noted that, at least for now, everything seems to be falling right into place for her — although she took exception to comments made by Mayor Justin Taylor in last week’s edition of the NEWS.

In that interview with the NEWS, Taylor challenged two of Bellino’s primary assertions about her proposed project — the first one being that 300 jobs will be created there, and secondly the plans she has outlined of opening an emergency room at the facility.

Taylor argued that both these claims are unrealistic and suggested Bellino was being untruthful by continually making such statements. He said she should “start being honest with the public,” noting: “It is what it is, you’re opening a drug and alcohol rehab center at the site. Don’t confuse the issue or give people false hope just to try to get the public on your side.”

Bellino objected to Taylor’s characterization of her claims.

“He’s got a lot of nerve telling the people of Carbondale that I’m lying to them,” she responded. “In no way, shape or form have I lied  about any of this. I find that very insulting.”

Regarding the projected employment numbers at the facility, she explained that neither she nor any of her team members ever claimed that “we’d open the doors and have 300 jobs right out of the gate.”

“But we certainly expect to over time, and I don’t think it will take that long,” Bellino related. “I believe that within two years we can achieve that goal.”

She said Just Believe Recovery Center will be taking applications in the Professional Building at the former Marian campus on the week of Dec. 8, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with interviews scheduled for the following week.

With regard to the ER, she said it would actually be a Rapid Treatment Unit.

“We don’t have them in Pennsylvania right now, but I’m working with some very important people to try to bring them here,” she offered. “I know it’s not going to be a big money-maker, but everything doesn’t always have to be about the money.”

For his part, Taylor questioned the reasoning of the judge’s ruling, explaining that the city is seeking clarification for future reference. He pointed out that “if the rules of the game at the appellate level have changed, then we need to be aware of that. We certainly don’t want to see another situation like this one come up again.”

He defended the city’s zoning board members, noting, “They have all volunteered to serve the city and I think they do a great job.”

Despite the mayor’s comments, Bellino said she’s “extremely grateful and humbled” by all of the support she’s received for her project from the people of Carbondale and surrounding communities.

“I’m completely overwhelmed,” she related. “The support from the people has been simply unbelievable — to the point where we now have some 1,200 followers on our Facebook page. That’s insane!”

In the end, she said she had no choice but to file the appeal and fight this battle to the very end.

“There’s no way I was going to give up on the people of Carbondale after the way they’ve stuck by me,” Bellino explained, “and there’s no way I ever would.”