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Zoning is blamed as rehabilitation center fails in W.V.

To advocates of a plan to build a center for recovering substance abusers, it's a case study in crushed dreams.

For residents who fought the proposal to locate the rehabilitation center in their neighborhood at 4615 S. 3200 West, it was just a simple matter of the city recognizing their rights.But West Valley officials say it was really just an example of zoning laws functioning normally two weeks ago when the city's zoning administrator rejected a request to allow the rehabilitation center to be built in a residential area just a stone's throw from Truman Elementary.

That decision ends a fractious NIMBY (not in my back yard) dispute between sponsors of the project and neighbors who feared the facility would attract a clientele that posed a threat to both their children and property values.

The Helping Hand Association and the Episcopal Church of Utah, project sponsors, contend those fears were unfounded and say the center would have provided an important stepping stone for drug addicts and alcoholics who want to rebuild their lives.

Caught betwixt the factions were West Valley officials, who saw both sides of the issue but said their primary concern had to be whether the proposed use fits in with the city's zoning laws and long-range land use plans.

And they say neither public opposition nor the stigma of substance abuse played any role in the final decision.

"Who uses the facility is not important," said Zoning Administrator Jared Campbell. "But the request has to meet zoning ordinances."

It did not, he said. The proposal was rejected. Case closed.

"You wouldn't want to raise your kids around that kind of stuff," said Lynn Sorenson, who lives across the street from the proposed center. "I think it's a crock to try and place that so close to a school (Truman Elementary).

Sorenson was one of about 200 people who turned out at a Sept. 11 Planning Commission hearing on the proposal, many of whom were against placing the center in their area.

"I've got two elementary school-aged kids, and I didn't want it here," he added.

His wife, Lori, said she feared the center would generate more traffic on a busy street that is already unsafe for children because it is narrow and lacks sidewalks.

"I was also concerned about the type of friends who might come visit" the center's clients, she said. "I was afraid they'd be partyers."

At the opposite pole is Father Patrick Ward of St. Stephens Episcopal Church, who figured this was a good opportunity for folks to practice that "love thy neighbor" principle everyone talks about.

The Episcopal Diocese of Utah owns the parcel of land in question. The church sits on the south end of the large double lot, and the center would have been constructed at the north end.

Ward said the one comment he heard most often is, "We don't want these people."

"What do they mean these people?" he asked. "These people are already in their neighborhood. They're fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers.

"Alcoholism and drug abuse is a disease," Ward added. "And it's already here."

The proposal called for a 7,000-square-foot building capable of housing up to 17 recovering drug and alcohol abusers.

West Valley spokesman Ted Nguyen said The Haven, a substance abuse rehabilitation program, would have operated the center and been responsible for maintenance, utilities, etc.

The Haven, which has operated a similar residential recovery house at 974 E. South Temple in Salt Lake City since 1969, is the name under which Helping Hands Association does business.

Dick Gillespie, executive director, said the center was badly needed to meet a valleywide demand for more residential rehab beds for adults as well as juveniles.

"There's a need for a hundred-fold more beds than we were talking about here," said Gillespie. "We have a three- to six-week waiting list for people who could have come into the program."

Elaine Robinson, who lives about two blocks from the proposed center, said she does not question the good intentions of the sponsors but admits she feared some clients might have been a threat to neighborhood youths.

"There are so many little children around here," she added. "I just don't think it would have been good for them."

Lora Short, who lives across the street and just north of the proposed facility, said she recognizes the need for such centers but is not convinced her neighborhood is the right place for one.

"I'm offended that the people who proposed this assume that we have a higher need for it in this neighborhood than they have in theirs," she said. "I know they just see it as a good charitable service.

"But we live here . . . they don't."

Ward said he believes some of the neighbors were confused about the center while others may have been misled intentionally.

"This was not a treatment center," he stressed. "It would have been a rehabilitation community" and would not have admitted people with serious criminal histories.

Nguyen said sponsors may appeal the zoning administrator's ruling, which indicated the center did not fall within the uses allowed in a single-family residential area.

But City Manager John Patterson, who said he hopes sponsors will look for a location in another part of West Valley City, is extending an olive branch.

"Such a facility could be a benefit to this and surrounding communities," he said. "We are willing to work with The Haven to find an appropriate location where it can operate within zoning requirements."