Supporters, opponents weigh in on Haymarket's proposal to open treatment center in Itasca

Public comment on a proposal to open a drug and alcohol treatment center in Itasca concluded this week with supporters and opponents weighing in on the debate that began two years ago.

Chicago-based Haymarket Center is seeking permission from Itasca to convert a former hotel building along Irving Park Road into a 240-bed facility for adult patients with substance use and behavioral health disorders. The village's plan commission has been hosting public hearings on Haymarket's proposal since October 2019.

Now the plan commission is nearing the end of its review. On Wednesday, the panel heard from 19 people - seven for and 12 against Haymarket's plan - during the final day of public comment.

Frank Lotta spoke about his experience with addiction and what Haymarket's proposed facility could do for others like him. The Wood Dale resident said he went to 63 funerals for people younger than 30 who died of drug and alcohol addictions, including his younger brother.

Lotta said it was difficult for him to get treatment because he had to travel to Chicago to get it. Having a Haymarket facility in Itasca would help area residents seek immediate treatment and be close to their families, he said.

"When people see drug addicts, they see less of a person," Lotta said. "These people simply made a mistake. Because of places like the Haymarket Center, people like me can gain the tools, knowledge and resources that we desperately need."

The village received 13 written comments, including one from the National Safety Council, which is based in Itasca down the street from the former hotel.

The council says having a treatment center in the community would save lives and reduce crime.

"We must take action to curtail opioid misuse and help those who are struggling with substance use disorders get the treatment they need to live their fullest lives," the organization said in a statement. "Treatment centers provide this necessary assistance."

Opponents, however, have focused their main objections on the size and location of a facility they say would put too much of a burden on the village's police and ambulance services.

Itasca Fire Protection District Chief James Burke previously said the proposed facility would cause a 23% increase in ambulance calls. But Haymarket leaders say they have a contract with Elite Ambulance to handle most ambulance calls.

On Wednesday, Itasca resident Teresa Dunhec said the nearest Elite Ambulance location that she could find is 10 miles away.

"I am not disputing the need for drug rehabilitation, but I feel it would serve DuPage County if it is better located," Dunhec said.

Others are concerned the facility would increase the number of students attending Itasca Elementary District 10. Haymarket insists young children would not be allowed to accompany their mothers at the facility.

"I feel that the moment this is moved to our village, then other mothers will follow," Itasca resident Joanna Lada said. "If you are on a tiny raft and you try to save too many drowning people, you will end up drowning yourself."

The next plan commission hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8. The panel is expected to make a recommendation to the village board on Sept. 22. It will be up to village trustees to decide whether to approve or reject the project.

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