Large crowd packs Itasca hearing on Haymarket addiction treatment center plan
Despite multiple delays and a change of venue, a massive crowd of Itasca residents packed the first of several scheduled meetings on a controversial plan to open an addiction treatment center in town.
And it was clear Wednesday night that most of them had come to show their opposition to Haymarket Center's proposal to convert a hotel into a 240-bed rehab facility.
"I'm happy that people drove all the way to another town to attend this meeting," said James Diestel, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Itasca group that's working to block Haymarket's proposal. "It sends a message that people want answers to their questions and to understand the impact this large of a treatment center will have on our small town."
Itasca's plan commission held the public hearing in the gymnasium at Lake Park High School's west campus in Roselle because officials couldn't find a venue in Itasca large enough for the crowd, which the fire department estimated to be over 1,000 people Wednesday night.
Before the meeting, a group of Haymarket supporters held a candlelight vigil near the school. An organizer said the goal was "to remember those we have lost, support those who need it" and to send the message that there's "a true need" for a treatment facility in DuPage County.
"There's not enough Medicaid beds in DuPage County," said Julie Detwiler of Roselle. "There's not enough resources. There's a need right where we live."
Opponents also gathered before the meeting for a rally that included a moment of silence to remember those who lost their battle to addiction.
"Substance use in general, opioids specifically, and mental illness does affect us as well," said Jennifer Kepp-Muzzo of Itasca. "This is not a protest of treatment or individuals who are affected."
Wednesday's meeting ended around 9:40 p.m. without comment from residents, and was continued to Monday, Oct. 28.
The controversy surrounding Haymarket's plan began in June when the Chicago-based nonprofit group announced it wanted to buy the Holiday Inn on the west side of I-290 and Irving Park Road.
Haymarket wants to refurbish the hotel to house hundreds of patients with substance-use disorders amid, advocates say, a rising demand for services. There were 98 opioid-related deaths last year in DuPage.
Politicians, advocates and other nonprofit groups threw their support behind Haymarket, saying the proposed facility would, among other things, help address the suburban opioid crisis.
But the project is facing strong opposition from residents.
One of the main concerns is that Itasca is too small to support a 240-bed facility. In addition to costing the town tax revenue, the center would put a strain on police and emergency services, opponents say. The fire protection district has one ambulance and needed voters to approve a property tax hike last fall to help balance its budget.
For months, resistance to Haymarket's proposal in the town of 8,700 has taken the form of yard signs, social media posts, letter campaigns and matching T-shirts.
Itasca tried to have the public hearing last month at a junior high, but the meeting had to be postponed after more than 1,300 people filled the gym and cafeteria -- with 200 to 300 more were waiting to get in. The hearing was delayed a second time before Itasca officials decided to move it to the high school in Roselle.
On Wednesday night, Haymarket's presentation to the plan commission was expected to take the entire three-hour meeting.
Haymarket is making its second attempt at opening a recovery center in DuPage. More than 2,000 residents from DuPage and other collar counties were patients at Haymarket's Chicago facility in 2017 and 2018.
Haymarket President and CEO Dan Lustig said this week that the group is committed to opening a facility in DuPage because there's a need.
"There's not many programs out there that take people regardless of their ability to pay," said Lustig, adding that most DuPage residents who rely on Medicaid must leave the county to get treatment. "There are thousands of people who needed treatment last year but didn't get it."
The proposed Haymarket DuPage facility would provide a full continuum of health care services, including primary care, for adults.