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Zoning board approves drug treatment facility

by on July 03, 2014 10:54 AM

Indiana County has issued a zoning permit — with conditions — to a proposed addiction-treatment center over the not-in-my-backyard objections of neighbors.

But in reviewing SpiritLife Inc.’s special-use permit application and testimony taken during a public hearing on the matter last month, the county’s zoning hearing board said there was no reason to deny the permit, as long as SpiritLife obtains an operating license and an occupancy permit.

SpiritLife, a startup nonprofit, needed to obtain the permit because its proposed facility falls within the boundaries of a protected zone around Yellow Creek State Park. The zone, established under the county’s Special Recreation and Conservation Zoning Ordinance, is meant to protect the area around the park from industrial and commercial development.

The facility is to be housed in a building that was once a personal care home run by the charitable Eastern Orthodox Foundation. The home closed several years ago.

In announcing its decision Wednesday morning, the zoning hearing board said the facility, to be located in Cherryhill Township, conforms to zoning requirements. And, it said, no one was able to show otherwise.

“No evidence was offered of any specific, immediate and credible risk to public health, safety and welfare from the proposed use,” the board said in its written decision. “No credible testimony was offered that the proposed use would interfere with the development of Yellow Creek State Park or would alter the character of the conservation zone of Yellow Creek State Park.”

Furthermore, the board pointed out that it had twice previously permitted the facility as a personal care home and shelter, and that some of the people who lived there suffered from drug and alcohol dependencies.

“No testimony was offered to the effect that such prior residents impaired the public’s enjoyment of Yellow Creek State Park, although testimony was offered that such prior residents occasionally trespassed upon lands of nearby homeowners,” the board wrote.

Although obtaining the permit is a step toward opening, there are no guarantees that the facility will.

As conditions of the permit, SpiritLife will have to obtain an occupancy permit from the township and an operating license from the state. It was going to have to obtain those permits anyway, and it is facing some challenges on those fronts.

For one, Terry Lichtenfels, the township’s contracted building inspector, is insisting that building codes require the facility be outfitted with a sprinkler system. SpiritLife officials, however, said they believed the building was exempt from the requirement.

Also, under state licensing requirements, SpiritLife will need to bring aboard a medical director. However, the organization doesn’t yet have the money to pay one.

But those are challenges for another day. In the meantime, Lou Wagner, SpiritLife’s executive director, said he is grateful to the board for what he called its thoughtful consideration. He said he and the organization are looking forward to working with local, county and state officials in getting the facility up and running.

However, neighbors said they are not looking forward to its opening. They said they fear it will concentrate a criminal element into the area.

“I don’t want those druggies down in my yard,” said Barb Lute, of Penn Run. “I don’t want those kind of people (around),” she said.

Another area resident, Gregg Gresco, said he thought the board did not take into consideration the wishes of neighbors.

“I feel the voice of the people has been silenced with this decision,” Gresco said, asking why Indiana Regional Medical Center couldn’t add a wing to accommodate those who are in recovery.

Sam Kusic is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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