'We want to save lives': Haymarket says it's proceeding with Itasca rehab center plans despite opposition
Haymarket Center officials are pushing forward with their bid to open an Itasca addiction treatment facility despite a resistance campaign that brought overflow crowds to what was supposed to be the first public hearing on the project.
A gathering amounting to about 17% of the town's population forced the village plan commission to call off a Wednesday night meeting at Peacock Junior High School, considered the largest public space in Itasca. Roughly 200 to 300 additional people were still trying to get inside when the assembly exceeded the 1,350-spectactor meeting capacity set by the fire district.
On Thursday, Haymarket reiterated its commitment to plans to convert a Holiday Inn into a 200-bed drug and alcohol treatment center.
"We're dedicated to providing lifesaving care to the community," Senior Executive Vice President Karen Kissel said. "We're committed to the zoning process and ultimately being a good partner to the village of Itasca."
"The need is great and the need is there, and we want to save lives," Kissel said. "It's a matter of life and death."
Village officials are scrambling to find a venue large enough to hold a hearing on Haymarket's request. Mayor Jeff Pruyn said officials hope to secure a venue "as soon as possible" to accommodate the expected turnout for a rescheduled hearing on Oct. 2. Village staffers also are considering whether to take the extraordinary step of moving public discussions outside town to a bigger space.
If that happens, James Diestel, a real estate broker who led an opposition march through downtown Wednesday, said transportation should be provided because "everybody's voice should be heard."
Dominic Ranieri, a Haymarket patient in recovery, had hoped to speak in front of hometown crowds to try to dispel misconceptions around addiction and treatment.
"I think the community is responding out of fear, and I can't blame them for that," he said before addressing reporters Wednesday with other Haymarket supporters.
Ranieri grew up in Itasca and started receiving care at Haymarket's headquarters in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood two years ago. Having a recovery program closer to family members would have given him peace of mind knowing they were only a "5-minute drive away."
"I absorbed all the knowledge that they taught me, put it into effect, and two years later, I'm headed rapidly in the right direction," Ranieri said. "As far as all the residents in this community, I would like to thank them immensely because regardless of the outcome today, now they're giving me an opportunity to shine light in a real dark world."
Founded almost 45 years ago, the nonprofit treatment provider is making its second attempt at opening a rehab facility in DuPage County to help meet what advocates say is a rising demand for services. Almost 100 people died from overdoses in DuPage last year. Nearly 2,000 residents from DuPage and other collar counties also were patients at Haymarket clinics from 2017 to 2018.
But Haymarket faced "not in my backyard" protests against a smaller-scale plan to operate a 16-bed satellite program in Wheaton.
More than a year after Wheaton's city council denied their request, Haymarket leaders told Itasca officials they wanted to buy the Holiday Inn to house hundreds of patients with substance abuse disorders.
Haymarket is now meeting staunch opposition from Itasca residents who maintain their primary concerns have to do with tax revenue loss from a tax-exempt organization replacing the hotel and the potential burden placed on the village's police and ambulance service.
"There's really just no part of this location that makes sense for the use that they would like to have," Diestel said.
The fire protection district has just one ambulance and needed voters to approve a property tax hike last fall to help balance its budget. Haymarket officials have said they would contract a private ambulance service to handle calls in Itasca.
The hotel, meanwhile, has been in operation for almost 40 years and generates roughly $250,000 in annual tax revenue, including $150,000 in property taxes.
"I am committed from a state level, and I can tell you Gov. Pritzker is committed to mental health and addiction to find a way to help with that piece of it, so we can offset that to keep that away, take that argument away," state Rep. Deb Conroy said earlier Wednesday.
Haymarket leaders have said they would plan a $1.5 million renovation to convert the Holiday Inn, situated within the Spring Lake Business Park, into a treatment center providing inpatient, outpatient and recovery programs.