Cornerstone Laine gets council OK
After nine total meetings regarding Cornerstone Laine, the women-only recovery residence now has the green light to operate at the site of the former Rosedale House senior independent living facility in Waterloo.
Monday night, the Waterloo City Council voted 5-3 in favor of granting Cornerstone Laine owners Adrian and Leisa Martinez a special use permit – under 13 conditions – at 228 Mueller Laine.
“We are thankful to be able to move onto the next step and to see God’s plan play out, whatever that may be,” Leisa said after the meeting.
Monday’s vote mirrored the city council’s previous decision to amend city ordinance adding recovery residences as allowable in a B-2 general business districts with a special use permit, as the same alderman who voted against the amendment in June voted against special use permit approval Monday.
Jim Hopkins and Jim Trantham, who serve the ward which contains the parcels in question, voted against the special use permit. They were joined by Alderman Clyde Heller.
Aldermen Steve Notheisen, Matt and Kyle Buettner, Stan Darter and Russ Row all voted in favor of the special use permit.
They made the right decision, according to Waterloo residents Steve Boorsma and Amanda Schweigert, who stepped up to the mic to speak in favor of the petition during the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting in the Waterloo High School auditorium.
Boorsma shared that he has seen the impact of the drug crisis through serving in six churches across the Midwest. He believes Cornerstone Laine is a unique opportunity for Waterloo.
“The reality is we don’t have the opportunity often to be the Good Samaritan that makes (a) difference in the lives of anybody,” he said. “The reality is it’s not somebody else’s problem. Just look at the police blotter: drunk drivers picked up, father-daughter team making meth, a murder trial that just took place (where) drugs were involved … Our task in the often-used phrase ‘America First’ means all members of society and whether they’re a part of Waterloo or not, we have a responsibility as Americans, and we have a responsibility as a community.”
Schweigert, a licensed professional counselor who has worked with clients struggling with substance use, said there has been a recurring theme in related meetings.
“I don’t think that there’s disagreement that we need this,” Schweigert said. “The pushback keeps being ‘not in this neighborhood.’ What I would ask is, what neighborhood are we going to have to start this process all over again when people are dying and suffering in our own community? How do we know that we’re not going to get the same pushback in another neighborhood?”
Stephanie Hunter, who owns the business adjacent to the former Rosedale House, shared she is a former drug addict who has been sober for almost a decade and said her experiences led her to believe Cornerstone Laine will not serve the people of Waterloo – even though she believes the residence has often been talked about in terms of serving locals.
“Somebody asked me, ‘If you could save a life, why would you not do it?’ and I didn’t have a good answer at the time, but now it would be, ‘a tradeoff isn’t any better.’ You bring a treatment facility into this town and inadvertently you will expose people to drugs that otherwise wouldn’t have been,” Hunter said. “I think it’s super important to note that they teach you (in rehab) to change your people, places and things – my parents never once paid for a treatment facility inside the town that I was doing drugs in.”
The marketing summary the Martinezes previously presented to aldermen states, “These women may be local, from the St. Louis metro area as well as other parts of the country, as many individuals suffering from addiction choose to seek help outside of their immediate area.”
After Hunter spoke against the petition, Waterloo City Attorney Dan Hayes told aldermen that “their decision is to be based on what’s in the record from the zoning board of appeals as it encompasses the planning commission record and not based on what people have said tonight, although they certainly have a right to say it.”
Hayes’ comment was met with scoffs from some community members.
Following the interjection, Andrew Williams, who lives close to the property in question, said he has not spoken to any neighbor who supports Cornerstone Laine operating at Mueller Lane, as they all have safety concerns.
When he was told his allotted speaking time was coming to a close, Williams replied, “You pretty much told us speaking doesn’t matter. It’s kind of a disappointment.”
Hopkins told Williams he believes his comments mattered, and that he was glad he spoke, which sparked applause.
The final vote that granted the Martinezes the special use permit came after the city council unanimously approved 13 conditions for the permit, three of which were discussed in detail.
Leisa expressed concern with a visitation stipulation discussed in previous meetings, which states that “clients shall be allowed one visitation per week on a strictly rotating Saturday and Sunday schedule and only after successfully completing 30 days in the program.”
She said there might be situations that necessitate deviations from standard practice, such as a mother who needs to see her children because of a family emergency.
“Our plan is scheduled visitation (on a) rotating schedule on the weekends; however, we want to extend grace and mercy to a mom that may be there and she may leave service if she doesn’t get to see her children,” Leisa said.
As a result, the city council added “except in emergency situations with the immediate family of a resident,” as a condition of the approved special use permit.
Once again, a condition regarding a privacy fence prompted input from both the Martinezes and city council. Ultimately, the aldermen decided to uphold a six-foot privacy fence stipulation and said the Martinezes would have six months from the purchase of the property to construct it.
The timeline was amended due to a cross-industry material and labor shortage, which can increase lead time on construction.
Upon request, Waterloo Zoning Administrator Nathan Krebel clarified the bi-annual inspections of Cornerstone Laine will be used to identify potential life safety issues as well as ensure building code compliance.
As written in the zoning board’s conditions submitted to the city council, inspections are also to assure Cornerstone Laine is in “operating compliance in accord with the definition of ‘recovery residence’ and compliance with all conditions as included in the special use permit.”
Krebel clarified that in order to fulfill the last condition, inspectors will not view clients’ files or enter bedrooms.
There are multiple conditions included in the approved special use permit that directly involve safety concerns, including alarm sensors on all doors and windows, security cameras outdoors and in common areas and pre-screening of all visitors.
Hunter specifically asked about a detox condition which requires clients to present documentation that they have undergone substance detoxification from a state or certified facility and drug test upon arriving at the recovery residence.
“Just from personal experience, detox does not mean that your system is clean and I’ve personally on multiple occasions, detoxed in facilities and then gotten high on my way to rehab,” Hunter said. “(The condition) was not specific. It said that they’ll be tested but it doesn’t say what the results of that drug test are and then what is to happen to the residents if they were to test positive or negative … can that get more specific?”
After Notheisen asked, Leisa said if a potential client arrives at the facility and tests positive for drugs being in their system they cannot enter.
While official approval of the long-awaited special use permit may seem like the beginning of Cornerstone Laine’s journey, Leisa pointed out to the council that the facility has already been making an impact.
She read messages from community members asking for resources or just sharing their stories and said since the Cornerstone Laine meetings began, the organization run by co-founders Art and Beth Deno has sent six people from Monroe County to treatment centers.
“There’s been dozens of other text messages, emails and at the end of the day, offering support to the families that are hurting has made all the difference,” Leisa said. “That one girl that was able to get into treatment, that one parent that we were able to support, has made all of this worthwhile no matter what the decision is.”
For the Martinezes, the decision was favorable, as the city gave them official permission to operate at their preferred location.