Planning Commission recommends denying rehab center rezoning request

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published March 27, 2015

Eastwood Clinics’ plan to open a treatment facility for substance abuse patients had more going against it than the large group of residents who came out March 25 to ask the Planning Commission to stop the project.

The clinics, which are affiliated with St. John Providence Health System, failed to meet some of the zoning criteria needed to open the facility on the proposed site.

After a lengthy discussion that included a presentation from project planners and residential feedback, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council deny the request to rezone the property at 19851 Anita St. from R-1, which is single-family housing, to R-2 to allow the inpatient treatment facility.

“It falls short in a number of things,” Planning Commissioner David Kien said. “I have some reservations.”

He said he applauded the work that Eastwood Clinics does. He said he believed that there was some fearmongering going on, and he didn’t believe the worst-case scenarios, which some residents raised, would come to fruition. He did have concerns and believed it would have a negative impact on those in the community.

“This proposal scares me, and one of the reasons is because we do have schools, churches, playgrounds, within walking distance to this facility,” Commissioner John Szymanski said. “I understand the mission (of the program), but again, I’m not comfortable at all with it.

“We would be straining existing resources on a facility like this — basically taking care of a nonprofit that’s not paying taxes,” he said.

The site is owned by the Archdiocese of Detroit and was the parish house at St. Peter Church, but it is now vacant. St. John Providence Health System needs to find a new home for its existing residential treatment facility in Royal Oak, because that property is being sold.

St. John Providence Health System has had a partnership with the archdiocese for many years, which St. John representatives said is the only reason they’ve been able to operate the program for so long.

The problem with the site from a zoning perspective is that it doesn’t meet the zoning requirements for the proposed use, even if it were to be rezoned R-2. It would need variances because it doesn’t have the proper acreage or setbacks and is not on a major thoroughfare, according to city officials.

In order to have a home of this type, Eastwood Clinics would need at least 5 acres; the property is about 2.5 acres. The facility also would need a 25-foot setback, which also does not fit that location.

St. John would lease the property from the archdiocese and spend about $261,000 to renovate. That is significantly less expensive than other options, such as purchasing a property that may be in an area zoned R-2 but not owned by the archdiocese.

Eastwood Clinics has both outpatient rehabilitation and a residential program, which is for men struggling with substance abuse. The program is staffed with therapists, volunteers and mentors.

Steve Candela, clinical director of Eastwood Clinics, said the organization heard the same concerns from residents near their current location. He said those fears never came to fruition and Eastwood Clinics has been partners with Royal Oak since the day the facility opened.

He said the men in the program would stay two to three weeks for treatment before moving to the next phase of treatment in an outpatient program. Eastwood Clinics proposed a 30-bed facility.

Candela said Eastwood Clinics is a nationally accredited program. It does not have a contract with the Department of Corrections, the county screens patients and those in the program are supervised 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said.

Those in the program do not wander off the property at any time during their stay, he said, and their days are highly structured. If they leave for a doctor’s appointment or meeting, a staff member or family member must accompany them.

“We have extensive rules,” Candela said, adding that while some people confuse them with a halfway house, they are not similar.

After Candela explained the program, some were not convinced.

“In my mind, it appears to be more of a halfway house,” Szymanski said.

Candela reviewed the police calls from 2014 at the current residential facility. The calls included a stolen bike, a suspicious vehicle and a welfare check.

“I think most people think there’s a whole lot more police involvement than there actually is,” he said.

He said that the spiritually based program does not dispense drugs like methadone. While Eastwood Clinics is not currently a detoxification facility, it might add that service in the future.

Besides helping those in need with their substance abuse problems, Candela said, Eastwood Clinics reaches out to the community to give back, as well.

“We end up being a partner for the community in terms of prevention,” he said, adding that representatives from Eastwood Clinics speak to schools and do other community outreach.

A number of residents stepped to the podium to speak in opposition to the proposal. Some expressed that they support the mission of helping those in need, but that the property is not the right location for this type of program.

They wanted to know about criminal background checks, including sex offender checks. They worried about the safety of their neighborhood and their children. There is a playground near the site.

Having the facility within the neighborhood drew several concerns.

“There’s 18 windows on the side of the building that look directly into my house,” Anita resident Thomas Mcleod said.

Another resident said the windows allowed a view down into her 1-year-old child’s room as well as her master bedroom.

“My concern is that this will totally change the quality of life for the residents on Anita as well as Danbury Lane,” resident Sandra Clark said.

They were worried about what would happen if the program left in the future with the site zoned R-2. It would open the site for other uses, according to residents. 

Residents also said that the proposed use would mean additional police and ambulance runs.

“I have dealt with these types of facilities,” resident James Younger said of his experience in law enforcement. “It puts an undue burden on the police department.”

He said that while the city has an excellent police department, it doesn’t have the resources of a larger department.

Multiple residents said that property values would decline due to the location of the facility.

“This will be an absolute detriment to the community,” Anita resident Dwayne Crawford said, adding that he looked at the city’s master plans over the years. “In every master plan, you wanted to keep a neighborhood, a neighborhood. That’s what attracted me to Harper Woods.”

“I’m sitting here listening, and I’m breaking out in hives because I’m so furious,” resident Michelle Jenny said. “I don’t need it where my children are going to walk by on the way home from school. I’m full of emotion, I’m full of passion and I’m full of rage. This is a neighborhood. You cannot bring something like this and plop it into the neighborhood.”

Eastwood Clinics Clinical Supervisor Larry McCarrick addressed some of the concerns.

“People do not walk out of our facility,” he said. “We are basically invisible until you need us.”

City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk was impressed with the residents.

“The residents did us proud,” he said. “This is a great example of small government at work, where the residents get to be heard and make a difference.”

The Planning Commission’s recommendation will go to the City Council for consideration at a future meeting. As of March 27, it was unclear when the recommendation would appear on the council’s agenda.

City Councilwoman Cheryl Costantino said in a statement that she is pleased with the Planning Commission’s decision.

“As a mom and as the member of City Council who lives closest to the property, I am relieved that the (Planning Commission) rejected the proposal,” she said. “While I support rehabilitation in general, I don’t think that a rehabilitation facility belongs in our residential neighborhood.”