The Waterloo Zoning Board of appeals went against the recommendation of the Waterloo Planning Commission on Thursday night when it voted 5-2 against two petitions related to a recovery residence.
Following the commission’s unanimous recommendation to add its definition of a recovery residence to city code and allow those businesses as defined in a B-2 General Business District with a special use permit, only zoning board members Leonard Loerch and Lauren Poettker agreed with that assessment.
Ken Hartman Jr., Lt. Col. William Boothman, Ken Gibbs, Larry Goessling and Ronald Hagenow voted against recommending that change to the Waterloo City Council. The board came to its conclusion after over an hour of public comments and discussion.
About 50 people attended Thursday’s meeting in the Waterloo High School auditorium, with numerous individuals speaking in favor of the petition – including an attorney, recovering addicts, health care professionals, a pastor and members of the community.
Many comments echoed those made at previous meetings, on which the Republic-Times has already reported.
Leisa and Adrian Martinez, the petitioners who plan to open a drug and alcohol recovery residence at 228 Mueller Lane, also spoke again.
“The drugs are here, the drug use is here, and this is our opportunity to be a city that helps to save lives,” Leisa said in her opening remarks.
Adrian, who has not spoken at previous meetings, also added his perspective to the meeting as someone whose daughter died from addiction.
“Our goal is to No. 1 save the parents from grief,” he said. “And if you have it, we’ll share it with you. We’ll be there for you. And (our goal) No. 2 (is) save these girls. They’re daughters, they’re my daughters, they could be your daughters. We want to save them from this addiction.”
Those speaking against the petition were less numerous this time, with only a handful of individuals speaking at the meeting and two letters being read into the record.
There was also, however, a petition against the changes signed by 72 residents of the nearby Westview Acres subdivision, which has been adamant in its opposition to a recovery residence taking over at the former Rosedale House senior living facility.
“It is our opinion that a drug and alcohol abuse recovery center should not be located in these areas for the safety and well-being of the nearby homeowners in a residential area,” the petition states.
Tina Kopp, a nearby resident who has spoken at and attended previous meetings on this subject, said she circulated the petition.
“I’d never done this before, and it was very moving to me,” she said, adding that only a few people had no opinion on the subject. “Everybody was so against this. One thing that really moved me is there is a lot of concern about the kids… but there is also a lot of concern about the elderly folks.”
With safety and security again being the primary concern of many of those who spoke against the zoning changes, Leisa again said the people who would come to the proposed facility, which would be called Cornerstone Laine, would not be dangerous because the 90-day program is too rigorous.
“For individuals who the judge said ‘go to treatment or go to jail’ or whose mom said ‘go to treatment or I’m not going to support you anymore,’ there are a million programs for them,” she said. “Anyone who isn’t serious about their recovery is not going to choose our facility and Art Deno, with his years of experience, would never place an individual in our facility if we can’t meet their needs.”
It is difficult to say why the zoning board voted against recommending the city council amend the zoning text because there was relatively little discussion and debate compared to the planning commission.
The zoning board member who spoke the most was Gibbs, who read from prepared remarks about his concerns with the proposed amendment. His chief hesitation seemed to be the effects adding a recovery residence in a B-2 district would have on nearby residential areas, as all of Waterloo’s B-2 districts are near residences, according to Gibbs.
The zoning code requires the board to consider the effect on nearby residents when making changes.
“The planning commission may not have adequately taken this section into consideration in their advisory report to us because they voted unanimously in favor of the petition,” Gibbs said. “However, the voice and written oppositions from the neighborhood are numerous. I’m not going to judge if their concerns are real, perceived or anecdotal, but they clearly exist.”
Gibbs, who said he had difficulty mentally separating the zoning text amendment and Cornerstone Laine, which was not up for a vote Thursday, said he also had concerns about the fact the special use permit is tied to a property – not a business owner – and that a recovery residence in B-2 would not meet the required definition of something warranting a special use permit.
Planning commission chairman Nathan Rau, who was present in the audience, came closest to debating Gibbs after Gibbs invited a planning commission representative to address his main concern.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to consider a particular neighborhood’s concerns about a particular philosophical special use on the petition at hand, which is should we define it in the code, and should we include it in B-2,” Rau said. “We’re not talking about Rosedale House. We’re just not.”
Rau said it is valid to consider whether B-2 is the proper place to put a recovery residence, and he said the neighbors’ fears would be worth considering if a special use permit application came up.
But, from a big picture viewpoint, Rau said the feedback has indicated the need for a facility like Cornerstone Laine in the community, and he believes a B-2 district would be the appropriate place for such a facility to be located.
He pointed out that businesses such as hotels, bowling alleys, bars, restaurants and liquor stores are permitted in B-2 without a permit, and entities such as adult entertainment and bulk material are acceptable with a special use permit.
“If the code already allows all these things in B-2 permitted and the code already allows bulk material storage, already allows adult entertainment in B-2s, then we’ve failed as a town to define B-2 properly,” Rau argued. “We see B-2 as very much consistent, if not more safe and conservative.”
Gibbs maintained that a B-2 district is the wrong place for a recovery residence since they all abut residential areas, and he pushed back on Rau’s argument about other acceptable uses in a B-2.
“There are numerous permitted uses for a B-2 General Business District, but just because they are permitted doesn’t mean they will happen,” he countered. “They still have to meet the requirements of the city in regards to traffic, parking, proximity to schools, etc.”
The matter will now go before the Waterloo City Council at its June 7 meeting. The council will receive only the zoning board’s opinion, not the plan commission’s. It is rare for the city council to go against a zoning board’s recommendation.
If the council also does not OK the changes, that is the end of the matter. If it does, Cornerstone Laine would then need to apply for a special use permit and get that approved by the planning commission and zoning board.
Planning commission recommends making zoning change
The Waterloo Planning Commission voted unanimously at its special meeting Wednesday night in the Waterloo High School auditorium to recommend adding its definition of a recovery residence to the city’s code and allowing those businesses as defined in a B-2 General Business District with a special use permit.
That was the first of a two-step process that could allow a drug and alcohol recovery residence to operate at the former senior living community known as Rosedale House at 228 Mueller Lane.
The planning commission decided May 10 that it wanted to devise a different definition of recovery residence than the one in Illinois statute, so it scheduled Wednesday’s special meeting to do so.
The commission’s definition of a recovery residence is “a nonprofit facility that offers a sober, safe and healthy living environment that promotes recovery from alcohol and other drugs use associated problems. Clients must be voluntary, not required as part of a prison sentence, and only permitted to leave the residence under direct supervision of employees. The facility must have employees on premises 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The minimum planned program stay shall be 60 days, and the maximum planned program stay shall be 90 days. Location shall not exceed 24 residents at any given time. Visitors shall be limited to one visit per resident per week to minimize traffic effects on the area. The resident shall also meet the standard set forth by the National Alliance for Recovery Residences and be certified by the Illinois Association of Extended Care within 12 months.”
Illinois defines a recovery residence as “a sober, safe and healthy living environment that promotes recovery from alcohol and other drug use and associated problems.”
Since they petitioned for this change, the commission spent most of its meeting asking questions of and getting input from Adrian and Leisa Martinez about the elements of the definition. The couple would be two of the owners and operators of the proposed facility, which would be called Cornerstone Laine.
“Thank you for the time and the effort that you have put into allowing us to operate but also protecting the city,” Leisa said after the commission OK’d its favorable recommendation. “I think it’s important. I think what you did by adding those things is right on.”
Previously, the commission had planned to vote on the special use permit at the same meeting as the text amendment, but it learned that was not permissible.
“Last week, we found out it was not appropriate for us to consider that until zoning rules on a zoning text amendment,” Rau explained. “It was a mistake on our part as a team, and I apologize for any confusion.”
There was limited public participation at Wednesday’s meeting because the commission received numerous letters about this matter and heard feedback for almost two hours at the May 10 meeting. Around 30 people attended Wednesday’s 90-plus-minute meeting.
The commission also discussed a few issues that came up at its previous meeting, which the Republic-Times wrote about.
For example, commission member Lauren Voelker emphasized that Cornerstone Laine would not be a medical facility.
“It’s important to realize on either side you’re on of the zoning text amendment what type of center you guys are aiming to open at this location,” she said. “This is not a detoxification facility. This is not a criminal rehabilitation facility. This is meant to be a safe and isolated space for women who are seeking to get help.”
Leisa also clarified that they do not plan to handle clinical services at the facility. She said there is an agreement in place with Human Support Services to manage substances such as methadone – which is used to prevent withdrawal symptoms – if the need arises.
Leisa later told the Republic-Times that she misspoke at the meeting. HSS will be the preferred provider for psychiatric and psychotropic drug needs. If a person needs a medication like methadone, Leisa said that client would continue her service under her current provide.
“Our goal is to get them off all drugs,” Leisa stressed.
In addressing a concern from an audience member about enforcing the city’s rigorous definition, Waterloo Code Administrator Nathan Krebel acknowledged it would be more difficult than usual to enforce all the stipulations of the definition since many of the activities would take place “behind closed doors.”
“This would be complaint-driven. It would have to be hard, factual evidence,” Krebel said of enforcement.
Leisa pledged Cornerstone Laine would follow all stipulations of the definition, as it already had those elements in its business plan.
“You just operate as a responsible human being and follow the rules,” she said.
Commission member Kevin Hicks said the definition protects the city in future cases because of how thorough it is.
“It’s the best idea to protect ourselves and have a strong definition that’s in the best interest of Waterloo,” he said. “Even if we have some things in here that are hard or difficult to prove, I would still feel good about having them in there.”