An appeal seeking to overturn approval of a drug and alcohol treatment center in the Woodmoor area was shot down Thursday on a 3-1 vote by El Paso County commissioners.
According to board members and their legal adviser, the county had no choice but to reject the appeal. First, Mountain Springs Recovery had met the county code’s definition of a rehabilitation center. Second, opponents’ claims that the rehab center would jeopardize public safety and health amounted to discrimination under the Federal Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, Senior Assistant County Attorney Cole Emmons said.
Those recovering from addiction are considered handicapped under the FHA and disabled under the ADA.
“I’m concerned with the discriminatory statements by the appellants and some members of the public,” Emmons said. “Case law would say that if (the commissioners) accept those, they can be attributed to (the commissioners).”
Mark Waller was the only commissioner to side with the opponents.
Opposition group Take Action El Paso County filed the appeal Dec. 7, arguing that the facility in the former Ramada hotel property at 1865 Woodmoor Drive would be “an imminent danger to the community’s children” because of its proximity to schools, bus stops and day care.
But under a new county policy, commissioners aren’t able to take concerns about the location of the rehab center into account, said Craig Dossey, executive director of county Planning and Community Development. They can overrule the staff’s decision only if they believe the company’s proposed use does not meet the land use code’s definition of a rehabilitation facility.
Board President Darryl Glenn said opponents hadn’t met that threshold.
The opponents, nevertheless, reiterated safety concerns to the commissioners, calling into question the integrity of Mountain Springs Recovery’s parent company, Sunshine Behavioral Health, which operates high-end rehab centers in Southern California and Texas.
Among their claims were that the center would attract juvenile delinquents, sex offenders, those convicted of manufacturing or selling illegal drugs and other criminals because the company does do background checks on patients.
They also called into question the proximity of the facility to restaurants and stores with liquor licenses, saying it would tempt those at the center to relapse.
Jared Raymond, the vice president of project management with Sunshine Behavioral Health, emphasized that patients undergo an extensive interview before they admitted. Furthermore, those seeking the 30-day inpatient treatment do so willingly and are more receptive to their care practices than patients at other facilities who are forced to be there.
“Our facility is designed for certain types of prospective clients,” Raymond said. “They voluntarily admit themselves to address substance abuse issues only.”
Opponents were disappointed in the decision.
“There will be many unintended consequences that will impact our children’s safety, which is first and foremost our concern,” said Tri-Lakes resident Hilary Brendemuhl. “They are not welcome in our community.”
Five other appellants chastised Commissioners Stan VanderWerf and Peggy Littleton as they walked out for voting “against the community.”
During voting, Littleton explained that she was strictly interpreting the definition of a rehab center in the county code.
“I would ask that the property owner make sure that neighbors be protected, that children be protected,” she said, looking at Raymond. “I ask that these be taken into serious consideration.”
Twitter: @lizmforster Phone: 636-0193