Critics of a drug and alcohol abuse treatment center slated to open in the Woodmoor area have asked El Paso County to reconsider letting a California company renovate a former motel.
Opposition group Take Action El Paso County argued in an appeal filed with the county Friday that Mountain Springs Recovery would be “an imminent danger to the community’s children” because of its proximity to schools, preschools, bus stops and day care.
Sunshine Behavioral Health got approval in November from county staff for its site development plan to renovate the former Ramada hotel property at 1865 Woodmoor Drive.
Company CEO Chad Daugherty told The Gazette then that the center would open “in the coming months.”
Because a zoning change wasn’t needed for the rehab center, a public hearing before the county commissioners wasn’t required. But the commissioners will rule on the appeal, which will be scheduled for a hearing within the next 35 days.
Opponents, led by local resident Sam Schafer, asked in the appeal that the county establish a 5-mile buffer zone around any proposed substance abuse treatment center to protect the area’s youths. Schafer also requested that the county begin requiring special-use permits for proposed rehabilitation facilities in areas that are zoned “C2” commercial or “potentially endanger children.”
“The facility’s 7-foot cedar fence will neither deter the curious middle schooler nor the mal-intended recovering addict,” the appeal states.
The company has said it plans to build a resort-style campus with group therapy, detox and other resources on site and will not have a negative impact on the surrounding community. It will open with about 54 beds and eventually expand, Jared Raymond, Sunshine Behavioral vice president of project management, previously told The Gazette.
“We believe that the opposition to allow Mountain Springs Recovery in the community is influenced by a fundamental misunderstanding of what the program is,” the company, which operates two high-end rehab centers in Southern California and another in Texas, said in a statement.
“MSR is a program developed by Sunshine Behavioral Health, an organization that has had a record in establishing licensed, and … certified facilities, even in one of the most regulated environments, such as California. Sunshine Behavioral Health operates its facilities within and beyond the standards of care and is simply unlike other unsavory organizations that have made the headlines,” the company said.
The appeal raises concerns about background checks not being required, leading to the center bringing drug use and convicted criminals to the area.
While the company does not run background checks on incoming patients, an admissions coordinator assesses each prospective patient after an “exhaustive interview,” asking them questions about their relationship with their family, medical history and risky behaviors, Sunshine Behavioral said in its statement.
“As with all our programs across other states, the voluntary nature of the facility is logically occupied by individuals who have chosen to be admitted into the program, and therefore have the natural propensity or desire to achieve sobriety and recover from addiction — versus a life of violence or criminal activity,” the company said in the statement.
Daugherty has said that sex offenders, people convicted of violent crimes, and substance abusers court-ordered to participate in a rehabilitation program would not be accepted.
Opponents are also worried about unruly sober living homes sprouting up around the facility in residential neighborhoods, where they cannot be regulated, and community water sources and waste water being contaminated by prescription and illegal drugs from those detoxing at the facility, according to the appeal.
Attached to the filing is a letter from a resident who states her real estate agent has told her to expect the value of her home to drop by $20,000 to $30,000 because of the proximity of the new center.
Residents aired similar grievances at a contentious public meeting held in August by Sunshine Behavioral in Monument.
Before the site development plan was approved, about 150 pages of comments from residents against the project were submitted to county planners. Opponents also provided to staff petitions with hundreds of signatures, saying the center “will jeopardize and put at extreme high-risk public safety and health.”
The groundswell of opposition is reminiscent of public outcry over a methadone clinic that was proposed three years ago, roughly a mile from the former motel. Colonial Management Group, which sued Monument after officials denied it a business license to open the clinic, agreed to leave the town for a $900,000 settlement that was finalized in 2016.
However, Sunshine Behavioral has repeatedly stressed that its center won’t administer methadone.
In the appeal, the opposition group also took shots at the company’s regulatory record. The filing cites records from the California Secretary of State’s Office showing that one of three business licenses that Sunshine Behavioral holds in California was suspended when the company failed to meet tax requirements.
Another attachment shows that the company was fined $5,000 this year after an inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that it had violated a law that requires timely reporting of work-related injuries.
The company said in its statement that the business license suspension was caused by a “missed renewal filing fee” that has been addressed.
The OSHA violation was due to an “administrative error,” and the employee was provided care for her injury and condition, which were due to “preexisting medical conditions” and not an incident on the job, according to the statement.