A proposed substance abuse treatment center in Woodmoor has given rise to a groundswell of opposition from residents who feel the facility would draw criminals and unbridled drug use to the area.
Their concerns were spotlighted at a Wednesday night public meeting held by Sunshine Behavioral Health, the California-based company that has purchased the area’s former Ramada hotel property to house the high-end facility that it hopes to open early next year.
About 130 people packed into a meeting room at the Tri-Lakes Chamber of Commerce in Monument, and more people flooded into the hallway. Within the first 10 minutes, opponents of the project had begun circulating a petition to stop the facility from opening. At one point, a man asked for those opposed to the center to raise their hands, and nearly everyone in the audience did.
The backlash bore echoes of the public outcry over a methadone clinic proposed about three years ago at a site roughly a mile from the former hotel. Colonial Management Group, which sued Monument after officials denied it a business license to open the clinic, agreed to leave town for a $900,000 settlement, finalized in 2016.
Sunshine Behavioral Health CEO Chad Daugherty emphasized that the facility, which would be called Mountain Springs Recovery, would not dispense methadone. He said the inpatient treatment facility, which would serve only those who voluntarily admit themselves, would be an improvement from the hotel, where police have responded to reports of crimes such as domestic violence.
Patients would stay, on average, 30 days and would adhere to a structured schedule entirely on the campus, he said. Sex offenders and those convicted of violent crimes would not be accepted into the program.
But none of his assurances seemed to appease residents, who also expressed outrage that a public meeting wasn’t held before the company closed on the roughly $4 million purchase of the hotel property at 1865 Woodmoor Drive on Tuesday.
“You guys are sugar-coating everything,” Monument resident Jan Reliford told Daugherty. “This deal is done. It’s in the book. You didn’t give us a chance. You didn’t explain anything to us.”
Critics also said they feared the center would decrease the value of nearby homes, create a poor influence for students at a nearby school and increase traffic in the area.
Throughout the meeting, residents heckled Daugherty and other speakers, yelling out comments such as “Shame on you” and “Can we believe anything you say?” When one of the moderators threatened to have a woman removed from the building if she did not stop speaking out of turn, another woman in the audience responded by calling out, “How do you sleep at night?”
Monument resident Stephen Dupont said the former hotel property was the wrong place for a rehab center and suggested the company instead open the facility near a halfway house on Nevada Avenue “with the rest of the sex offenders and criminals.”
“The people of Monument do not want this place, and I feel that you were trying to slip this under the table,” Dupont said.
Sunshine Behavioral Health will need several government approvals before it could open the facility.
The company has submitted a site development plan to El Paso County Planning and Community Development. Planning staff will need to approve the application. Because no rezoning is needed, the proposal will not come before the planning commission or Board of County Commissioners.
Andrea Barlow of NES consulting, which is managing the project, said she expects the site development plan will be approved within six weeks.
If it's approved, opponents could appeal that decision, Craig Dossey, executive director of the county’s planning department, told residents.
The company also applied for a license from the Colorado Department of Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health to operate as an inpatient treatment facility.
The Pikes Peak Regional Building Department also would need to provide building permits and an updated certificate of occupancy, Barlow said.
Sunshine Behavioral Health operates two luxury rehab centers in Southern California and another center. Daugherty said the Woodmoor location would be similar to its Willow Springs Recovery center in Texas, a resort-style campus with group therapy, detox services and other programs and resources onsite.
The facility would not accept those court-ordered to participate in a rehabilitation program. People with serious psychiatric issues, such as tendencies to self-harm or eating disorders, would be referred to treatment centers that could better cater to their needs, said Daugherty.
The property now has a lodge with a restaurant and four hotel buildings arranged around a courtyard, according to the site development plan.
The buildings would need some minor changes, installation of sprinkler systems and other adjustments to meet building and fire codes. The company will also make about $1 million worth of aesthetic changes, including painting, landscaping and installing a fence and gate, Daugherty said.
The facility, which would be manned by 30 to 40 medical professionals and staff members, would accept about 60 patients at first and eventually expand to admit about 150. It would accept private insurance but not coverage under Medicaid or Tricare, and would be privately funded, Daugherty said.