Itasca rejects Haymarket plans for addiction treatment center
For more than two years, Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn and village trustees had steered clear of the debate over a proposed addiction treatment center opening in the small DuPage County town.
But on Tuesday night, board members staked out a clear position on the highly contentious issue. Trustees unanimously rejected Haymarket Center's request to turn a former hotel into a 240-bed rehab facility.
After more than 35 public hearings devoted to the Haymarket project, the decision seemed almost anticlimactic. It took barely 15 minutes for board members to cast their vote.
Haymarket President and CEO Dan Lustig said he wasn't surprised by the board's verdict.
"From two years of going through these hearings, for a 20-minute deliberation, I think it really speaks volumes to the problems that we're seeing right now," Lustig said.
Only Pruyn and Trustee Ellen Leahy explained their opposition, framing the decision in mostly fiscal terms. Both agreed that the scale of the proposed treatment center was too much for a town of less than 10,000 people to absorb.
"A facility this large belongs at the county seat or affiliated with a hospital where appropriate emergency medical services can be provided," Leahy said.
From nearly the start, Haymarket faced an uphill battle in its second attempt at offering treatment services within DuPage to help combat the scourge of opioid addiction. The county last year reported 112 opioid overdoses, a record high.
Almost four years ago, Haymarket, a Chicago-based provider, was denied a bid to start a 16-bed satellite program in Wheaton.
But Haymarket encountered intense resistance in Itasca even as advocates tried to quash underlying concerns they said were rooted in stigma.
"The mission of Haymarket is to try to save people's lives, and I think that's what was missed tonight," Lustig said.
Just before 7:30 p.m., the village released a statement announcing the board's 6-0 vote with the full text of the mayor's remarks, his first extensive comments on Haymarket's plans.
"Early on, it was clear the potential financial burden of Haymarket would be heavy on Itasca," Pruyn said.
Haymarket is now considering all of its legal options. The nonprofit group owns the Holiday Inn property along Irving Park Road where it hoped to provide treatment for substance-use disorders.
"It's these types of issues that might have to play itself out in a court of law," Lustig said. "And I think that's really where important decisions like this possibly belong."
Haymarket initially filed its Itasca zoning application in July 2019 and tried for months to get village approval. But hundreds of people opposed to the project packed school gymnasiums when plan commissioners began holding public hearings. An organized group of residents used social media and held rallies to spread their message that the facility would strain police and fire emergency services.
Then the process was put on hold -- first because of a lawsuit Haymarket filed against the village that was dismissed, and then because of COVID-19 lockdowns.
When the hearings reconvened, ambulance use still dominated much of the debate, despite Haymarket's assurances that it would contract with a private ambulance provider to handle, at minimum, basic life support calls generated by the facility.
Haymarket also pledged to contract with an additional private ambulance company if needed. Lustig on Tuesday night said he was willing to introduce contracting a third.
An on-site medical team of doctors and nurses would essentially act as the first responders at Haymarket, Lustig said. Of the 240 beds, 144 were designated as "recovery home beds" for patients who had completed an intensive detox and inpatient treatment program.
"Those are individuals who are most stabilized," Lustig said.
But village officials questioned the demand for police and emergency services. Itasca Fire Protection District has one ambulance.
"At various times during the meetings, Haymarket presented different forecasted calls for service," Pruyn said. "The bottom line is the forecasting is more than what our fire district can handle now with our one (advanced life safety) ambulance."
Haymarket leaders suggested they could provide a second ambulance, Pruyn said, "but that would also require additional staff, maintenance and other costs Itasca just doesn't have."
There also was talk of seeking grant money from the state to ease the potential financial burden on the village. But the mayor said Itasca could not count on "unknown dollars."
"It was clear to state elected officials, county elected officials and local officials," Pruyn said, "that one of the smallest communities was going to have to absorb 100% of the cost, risk and burden of servicing a facility that would be accepting residents beyond Itasca."