November 12, 2004

Medical Research Lab Granted Temporary Zoning Variance "You may be running afoul of the Florida Civil Rights Statute which classifies HIV victims as disabled." – Chad Willard, attorney for Bio Collections Worldwide Inc. By Mitchell Pellecchia Staff Writer A Little Haiti diagnostic and demographic medical research group was granted a 12-month window by Miami's Zoning Board Monday to allow persons with communicable diseases and AIDS to participate in their clinical research studies. Bio Collections Worldwide Inc. was granted the zoning variance, but for a limited time only. After a year, Bio Collections has to come before the board again for review so its impact on the community can be evaluated. "The only way I would be inclined to favor this is to give temporary approval and then gauge community consensus," said Zoning Chair Juvenal Pina. The testing company is relied upon by doctors and medical researchers worldwide for their extensive and diverse pool of subjects and biological material. They have been operating out of their 5735 N.E. 2nd Avenue office for eight months now and requested that zoning officials allow them a pharmaceutical laboratory so they can broaden their testing field. Company officials told the city their operation is more likened to that of any medical office currently operating within their C-1 district and that their proposed laboratory should be allowed to operate "as a matter of right," said Bio's lawyer Chad Willard. But it is a right that Bio Collections doesn't enjoy, said board member and 32-year Little Haiti resident Georges Williams. "This project is not right for the community," shouted Williams. He told company president, Sixto Pacheco, that the "Haitian community has had enough of the sick people and enough of the drug problems. Enough is enough." Assistant Planning Director Lourdes Slazyk agreed. "When they walk out the door – they are in the neighborhood," she said, referring to the drug addicts and alcoholics Pacheco said his program would not admit, ultimately turning them back out into the street. Slazyk insisted that the center's expansion would bring "concentrations of diseases" and a bad element to area neighborhoods and children. Bio Collection was before the board once in July and again in September, when "There were only three conditions and now there are 12," Pacheco told the SunPost. Of the 12, said Pacheco's counsel, there were four such that, if enforced by the city, the lab wouldn't be worth the investment: * Restricting the lab to testing phase-one and phase-two patients (early stages of infection) only. * Limiting the lab to off-premises patient screening only. * Prohibiting the screening and testing of HIV positive patients. * Prohibiting testing those with medically documented communicable diseases. Amidst the board's criticisms and proposed constraints, Pacheco and Willard promoted the lab as a place that would offer healthcare opportunities to those who would not otherwise be able to afford testing, but at the same time warned city officials that restricting treatment to a specific control group such as "those with AIDS" may be discriminatory. "You may be running afoul of the Florida Civil Rights Statute which classifies HIV victims as disabled," said Willard. The two company owners said they were both surprised over the community dissent, especially since "residents gave us the impression then that everyone knew what we were doing" during a charette conducted over the summer, Willard said. "Fifty people attended." Pacheco assured residents that all tests conducted by his lab are monitored closely by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and that the facility is equipped to handle any kind of health risk. "It's a step by step process that if we fail, we'll face sanctions," he said, assuring that the lab will not generate biohazards. "We only collect them," he told the board. That didn't hold water for Williams. "It will be extremely difficult for the city to control what goes on in that clinic," he said. "It's not ‘kid friendly,' and it's not a business that fits that area." One of Pacheco's medical assistants, Yvette Simeon, a seasoned Liberty City AIDS clinic worker, told the board that it would be highly irresponsible and wrong to discriminate against HIV patients and to do so would be ignoring the epidemic. "I don't just do this for the job," said Simeon. "I love my community." Other residents at the meeting were more concerned about the landscaping of the new lab building and requested that Pacheco do something with its visual aspects. Area retailer Silvia Wong said at first she objected to the project because a laboratory building didn't fall in line with her vision to make the area more pedestrian friendly, but has since changed her mind. "If we can assume these gentlemen are not lying to us and can make it inviting to pedestrians, then I welcome them," said Wong, pairing-up the recent transformation of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Streets in Manhattan, with the movement to redevelop Little Haiti. After two failed motions, the first an attempt to enforce four of the twelve conditions and the second to prohibit the lab altogether, the board approved Pacheco's request for a lab 4-to-2 pending a year's probation. Although Pacheco said he would work at continuing to make the façade more community friendly, the board did not make it a probation stipulation. "I cannot go down to that community and tell them this project is approved," Williams complained. "I think his vision is way off," replied Pacheco.

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