ST. GEORGE – Plans to open a residential drug and alcohol treatment center in the Bloomington Ranches neighborhood of St. George will apparently go ahead without any opposition from the city, according to statements from both city officials as well as the owners of the planned facility.
Many Bloomington residents have strongly opposed plans to build the facility, citing property value concerns, as well as worries that the residential treatment home might attract a criminal element to the neighborhood. On Aug. 28, dozens of Bloomington residents showed up en-masse at a town hall meeting organized by U.S. House Rep. Chris Stewart, to voice their opposition.
The city’s zoning ordinances currently allow for residential treatment facilities to house up to eight patients. The owners of Steps Recovery Center originally planned to build a 24-bed facility, which would have required them to obtain a conditional use permit from city council, exempting the center from current zoning laws.
This would have put the city in a difficult position because denying such a permit would have likely resulted in an expensive lawsuit. The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids local governments from denying such permits for residential treatment facilities in most cases. However, by scaling back the size of the facility, it is unlikely that the owners will need to seek approval from city officials.
St. George City Councilman Jon Pike said he doesn’t think there is anything the city will be able to do to prevent the facility from opening, so long as they don’t house more than eight patients.
“I don’t believe it will even come before the city,” Pike said; he has publicly indicated that he would oppose plans to open a 28-bed facility.“My understanding is there is not a lot that can be done,” he said, “so long as they are operating in accordance with the law.”
Because the Americans with Disabilities Act classifies drug and alcohol addiction as a disability, Marc Mortensen, assistant to the city manager, said, there is not much that the city can do to prevent the facility from opening in the Bloomington neighborhood.
“Under federal law, people with disabilities are a protected class,” Mortensen said. “This is not the first time we’ve seen something like this and, in certain situations, our hands are tied by federal law.”
The city will continue to keep a close eye on the situation, Mortensen said, and: “We are doing what is necessary to make sure that (the owners of the facility) are abiding by both state and federal laws, as well as city codes and ordinances.”
Bloomington resident Warren Church has been instrumental in organizing community opposition to the planned treatment center. Church said he understands that there is a community need for drug and alcohol treatment facilities but that he doesn’t think they belong in residential neighborhoods.
“There’s a place for these centers, we all agree that we need places for sick people,” Church said. “The rehab center is not the issue, but where the rehab center is being placed because of federal law is what we have a problem with.”
Church has had several meetings with city officials, including members of city council, the mayor, and the city attorney, he said. He recognizes the city has done all that it can do in light of the decision by Steps Recovery to limit the facility to eight beds rather than 24, as originally planned.
However, Church and other Bloomington residents are not ready to give up their fight just yet. He said:
We are going to do what we said we are going to do. The bottom line is that we are going to exercise our limited right to oppose this facility at its current location. We are going to protest this business that is being put in a place it should not be in.
Mike Jorgensen, one of the owners of Steps Recovery, said that he hopes the opposition to the planned treatment home will die down once neighbors come to see that the people who seek treatment for addiction are not dangerous criminals, but rather members of their own community.
“Hopefully when we open up, people will realize what we do and how we do it,” Jorgensen said, “and the neighbors will welcome us into the community.”
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