ELBURN – The Elburn Village Board on April 17 voted to send a special use request that would allow a former retreat center to house an addiction treatment center back to the Plan Commission for another vote and public hearing.
“From my seat, I don’t think this board has enough facts to make a decision,” Village President Dave Anderson said.
The Plan Commission on April 11 voted to recommend that the board approve a special use requested by Miami Beach Holistic Addiction Treatment Center LLC to open a similar treatment center in the historic home on the former Great Lakes Leadership Center campus at 526 N. Main St.
Although the Plan Commission's 5-0 vote was unanimous, three commissioners – Mary Gustafson, Randy Ream and Bob Houtz – voted no on the question as to whether the proposed use met all nine standards needed to obtain the special use permit. Commissioners Chris Mulvihill and Chris Gould were absent from that meeting.
“I don’t understand the Plan Commission’s vote,” said Village President-elect Jeff Walter.
A number of residents who live near the campus came to the Village Board meeting April 17 to express their concerns regarding the potential treatment center. Several who spoke, including Ken Gustafson and LeRoy Herra, said they were disappointed in what they perceived as not enough information and notice about the proposed facility provided to them and the rest of the town. Several people said that the first they heard about the potential treatment center was in an article in the Elburn Herald after the Plan Commission’s public hearing was over.
Gustafson, a former pharmacist in town, said he has seen first-hand the “scourge of addiction,” and what often begins as a prescribed medication to treat chronic pain following an accident of some sort, ends up with an individual who will do anything to obtain more of the drug.
Kim Anderson said that her concerns, as a homeowner and a mother, were for the safety of her children and other’s children, as well as property values. A number of other residents echoed similar concerns, as well as worries that the historic value and beauty of the former John Stewart home and campus would be compromised, and others wondered about the potential burden on the Elburn Police Department.
Tom Dean, chief operating officer of the Miami center and the petitioner for the special use in Elburn, addressed the questions from residents. He emphasized that the facility would be a private, for-profit operation, which gives him the ability to accept only people he believes are committed to recovery.
He said the people who are accepted into the program – 45 days of residential treatment on-site – will not be using drugs or alcohol while they are there. There will be 24-hour supervision, and the property will be a closed campus, which means that clients would not be out and about in the general population of the town.
Dean told the residents that the completion rate for his Florida program is 96 percent. In addition, he said the police have had to be called only once in the two years the center has been in operation.
Ron Martin, administrative bishop of the Church of God Great Lakes Regional Office, current owner of the property, told residents at the Village Board meeting that his dream to create a retreat center on the property had been realized for some time. However, he said the millennial generation now prefers to stay at hotels for their religious retreats, and the limited recent use of the property led to the church’s decision to sell the property.
Martin said he went to Florida to visit the Miami Beach center, and he came away feeling confident of the owners’ commitment and their financial ability to restore and maintain the integrity of the building, and to being good neighbors within the village.
Elburn Hill Church Pastor Gary Augustine, who lives on the property, said that it won’t stay the same, so the question is what kind of change will there be? He said he fully supports the potential new use.
“There are lots of worse things that can come behind this,” he said. “I work with lots of people who have this problem. Something like this needs to be in the community. From what I’ve seen so far, I think this will be a tremendous advantage.”
Former Village Board Trustee Craig Swan said he will soon celebrate 38 years of sobriety.
Swan said there are so many people dealing with the pain of addiction today. He asked the residents where they would send a loved one with that problem.
“Once, somebody gave me a chance,” he said. “I’m for it [the treatment center]. Without a chance, there is no hope.”
Swan told Dean that he hopes he will be able to sell the people of Elburn on his proposal.
The board voted unanimously to send the special use request back to the Plan Commission for it to vote on each individual finding of fact, as well as to hold another public hearing. John Krukoff and Dave Gualdoni were absent from that meeting.
“We must do this correctly,” Anderson said.
The next regularly scheduled Plan Commission meeting is May 2.