ELKTON — With little fanfare, Mayor Rob Alt and the town commissioners unanimously approved a zoning ordinance change last week that allows existing downtown medical offices to move locations with a special exemption.
A few years after the town heavily limited a medical office’s ability to locate in the downtown, it will now allow some medical offices within conditions in the Town Center (TC) zone, the heart of downtown Elkton largely surrounding Main Street.
Primary physician offices, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, can be allowed in TC with special exception with conditions. The new change also allows existing primary offices of physicians in the TC zone, with three or four or more professionals seeing patients, to relocate one time within TC in a building above or below street level with conditions.
The zoning ordinance change comes months after the Elktowne Center owners asked the town to reconsider its strict regulations, as it was looking to accommodate Delaware Cardiovascular Associates.
The cardiovascular practice currently has several offices in northern Delaware, but only one office in Cecil County on North Bridge Street. In the last four years, business has boomed as nearby Union Hospital needed a place to refer patients, officials said. Now the practice has outgrown its current space.
But town officials revised the zoning regulations to shut out all medical uses in the TC zone, among other restrictions on medical uses, after a suboxone clinic attempted to move into Elktowne Center.
Elkton officials wanted to preserve buildings downtown for retail use, but the Elktowne Center has not had a retail shop since the Good As New Thrift Shop moved out and into a building on North Street in 2017.
Elktowne Center was once home to a J.J. Newberry’s department store, but these days it hosts office space for the Department of Juvenile Services and Family Services; Degussa International; Pathways 4 Mental Health; Impacting Your World Christian Center; and East Coast Ambulance Services.
Under the existing zoning regulations, offices with up to three physicians, as well as nursing homes and other facilities, are permitted in the commercial (C-1) district with a special exemption. Nursing homes can be placed in the residential office (R-O) or highway commercial (C-2) districts, while small doctor offices can open in all commercial districts and the business and industrial (BI) district.
Clinics or hospitals, larger doctor offices and “counseling services” are limited to C-2, BI and highway interchange (C-3) districts. Pharmacies are permitted in C-2 and BI districts.
Under the new ordinance, the definition of counseling services includes mental health and pregnancy counseling, marriage and family therapy, drug and alcohol abuse and the practice of clinical social work of a non-intensive outpatient basis. That last term prohibits on-site dispensing of medicinal and non-medicinal drugs, which notably include maintenance-assisted treatment drugs like methadone.
Existing medical offices within the TC zone, including Delaware Cardiovascular Associates, will be allowed to move once the ordinance goes into effect on Aug. 27.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that existing downtown medical offices to move locations without seeking a special exception last week. We regret the error.