Debate over drug rehab plan heads to Wheaton city council
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Leaders of an addiction treatment center are bracing for a showdown with Wheaton neighbors at a Monday city council meeting over a controversial plan to open a facility for patients recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.
The two sides have clashed for months at heated public meetings on the proposal by Haymarket Center, a nonprofit that operates a 400-bed complex in Chicago.
City planners estimate they have received several thousand pages of public comments from opponents who have waged letter and email campaigns against Haymarket's request to convert a vacant medical office building into a treatment center with outpatient and inpatient programs.
A final decision by the city council is expected at a later date, but residents are still preparing to show up in large numbers Monday to air their objections.
"We're not expecting any action on Monday night," staff planner Tracy Jones said. "It's solely going to be discussion and public comment."
Parents who have lost grown children to addiction have tried to confront the stigma they say has fueled unease over the proposal.
"I also wonder if anyone has ever been to Haymarket. Has anyone ever been to a drug rehab facility? Obviously our family has," said Patti Clousing, a Wheaton mom whose 19-year-old son died from a heroin overdose in 2014. "And never once did I feel unsafe."
State lawmakers and law enforcement officials also have thrown their support behind Haymarket as the suburbs face a rising death toll from opioid overdoses.
Last year, DuPage County recorded 95 confirmed opioid-related deaths, up from 33 in 2014, according to the coroner's office.
"I think it's important to welcome Haymarket and shine a light on it," Wheaton resident Sherry Bowne said during a recent planning and zoning board meeting. "Let them be part of our community. We need them just like we need hospitals, fire departments and police."
Opponents don't dispute that treatment options are needed in the fight against the opioid crisis, but they raise alarms over the proposed location of the center on a site next to a day care and just north of a shopping center. They also say they feel validated by the planning and zoning board's unanimous recommendation last month to reject Haymarket's request.
The nonprofit has proposed an amendment to the city code to add residential treatment facilities as a special use in a commercial zoning district.
"It is important to have treatment facilities, but just because it should go somewhere doesn't mean it goes anywhere," said Julie Kulovits, an attorney and mom who lives in the Danada East subdivision to the north of the site.
"It would have been a much different question if Haymarket came to the city of Wheaton and said, 'We'd like to open in your city. Can you help us find a place that works?' But rather they on their own chose a location that was not zoned for this use, and now they are asking our city to change the rules that apply to all of our most important retail districts to permit them to open (the center)."
Haymarket DuPage would serve patients 18 and older in a one-story building with round-the-clock security. Surveillance cameras would look onto the parking lot. Residential patients would not have off-site privileges during their treatment unless they left the center for medical purposes, and in that event, they would be supervised by staffers while off-site, according to Haymarket's proposal.
But the proposed security measures have failed to reassure residents who are worried about crime, loitering and property values if a drug-treatment center opens on the property at 140 E. Loop Road.
Dan Lustig, Haymarket's president and CEO, has said the organization selected the site partly because the costs of build-out won't be expensive. He also said the size of the building and its central location in the county were ideal to Haymarket's needs.