by Rick Langenberg:
Plans for a small drug treatment and recovery center in Woodland Park — a project that has sparked much neighborhood opposition and strong support by industry advocates — remain in limbo.
Following a lengthy hearing last week, Woodland Park elected leaders, at the request of attorney Erin Smith, called a time-out and voted 5-2 to delay a final decision on the project’s bid for a conditional use permit in a local neighborhood on the east-side of town. Based on many of the comments by the council, the proposal, calling for residential care home for professional women who are suffering from prescription drug abuse and addiction, appeared headed for defeat. Several elected leaders, including Mayor Dave Turley, questioned the impact the request for a residential care home would have on property values and the neighborhood’s character.
“This is a pretty small area,” said Turley, in referring to the residential, drug treatment home, located at 115 Trull Road, near the Swiss Chalet restaurant and the Elk Grove town homes. “Because it is a small area, it has more of an impact.” “This is just not fair to the people who have bought their property there,” said Councilman Ken Matthews, in objecting to problems residents may experience from a group home placed in their neighborhood. He said it would have been a different scenario, if the home care facility existed, prior to most people moving into the neighborhood
But Smith asked that the council delay a decision until more research can be done. She expressed legal concerns that the city may violate the American Disability Act if it prohibits this particular type of project, which are only permitted in residential areas. She said if the group home met the guidelines of the ADA, the city may not be able to enact land-use regulations that outlaw the facility. “We are not prohibiting it,” argued Carrol Harvey, who like Turley, questioned if this is the right area for the prescription drug rehab and recovery center. She referred to the neighborhood as one that has a definite “suburban residential” flavor.
But the attorney asked for additional time to research this issue further. Her request was granted, with only Harvey and Turley casting “no” tallies. “I don’t know if there is a place in Woodland Park, where you wouldn’t have the same issues,” said Councilman Eric Smith, in explaining the council’s dilemma and the need for more time to study the matter.
The proposed residential four-bedroom home care facility would be equipped to house and treat a maximum of eight women at a time and one staff person. Its treatment is based on a mostly scientific approach, aimed at grappling with prescription drug abuse, with Colorado now ranking as the second worst state in the nation for serious pill-related abuse problems. Current estimates indicate that 48,000 women in Colorado have died from prescription drug overdose between 1999 and 2010.
Just prior to the council’s vote, the applicant, Dr. Judith Miller, the chief executive officer of Courage to Change, made a strong pitch for allowing this legal use, saying her proposed prescription drug treatment center falls within the guidelines of the ADA. She also cited the advantages of the facility and described the details of their treatment program. “We are not bringing in monsters to the community,” said Miller, who would purchase the home, along with another partner in her business. Miller is regarded as an expert in this line of work and in dealing with prescription drug abuse. ‘It will be an international star (for Woodland Park)…I think it will enhance the entire city of Woodland Park.”
Her request for a conditional use permit, which would allow the project to move forward under a number of conditions, such as limiting the home to treating a maximum of eight women at one time, was favored by the city staff. Also, the request was unanimously approved by the planning commission.
A bad location
But throughout the hearing, Miller’s plan faced strong opposition from residents in the area. Many local neighbors lauded her goals, but worried that this type of treatment center would negatively impact their property values and argued that it is just not a good fit in their neighborhood.
One of the strongest presentations was made by Marc Murphy, who has developed the Elk Grove town homes, and currently heads its homeowners association. “This is a real tough issue for me,” said Murphy. He said he strongly supports Miller’s mission in dealing with the serious problems of prescription drug abuse. But that said, he cited the fact that he and his partner have plans for developing 22 to 24 more town home units. And if this treatment center gets approved, he questioned the impact this would have on their future development.
Moreover, he noted that more than 75 percent of people in the area oppose the project. “Is it really the proper use for this area?” questioned Murphy.
Other residents echoed similar sentiments. “To me, it is not a mixed use area. I don’t have a good feeling about having a drug treatment center in our back yard,” said resident Brad Harvey. “We are seeing a fragile recovery of people buying property in Woodland Park,” said Thomas Buchmeier, who fears this center would negatively affect the neighborhood. “It just doesn’t work. It is inappropriate.”
Most residents conceded that the program is worthwhile and even mentioned personal family members who have encountered problems with this type of addiction or related problems. A petition in opposition to the project was signed by a majority of residents in the area. But the current owners of the four-bedroom property, Rick and Kathy Hobbs, didn’t see any problem with the home care facility. “Only a few people in town know our property exists,” said Kathy Hobbs, who described the property as a “home tucked away in the woods.” She also touted the benefits of the program for the community. “It will benefit the local economy. We support the proposed use of the property.”
In addition, several former clients of Miller, and her treatment program, spoke in favor the project. They contended that Miller’s treatment saved their lives.