Forty people attended the Elbert County Planning Commission meeting May 5, via a Zoom virtual meeting, to discuss concerns regarding Healing Pines, a proposed residential treatment center at 5550 …
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Forty people attended the Elbert County Planning Commission meeting May 5, via a Zoom virtual meeting, to discuss concerns regarding Healing Pines, a proposed residential treatment center at 5550 County Road 124 for men recovering from addiction.
Residents expressed concerns that the facility would bring undesirable people to the area, increase crime and calls to the sheriff’s office, and expose children living near the property to the risk of dangerous behavior.
Paul Leafstedt, who hopes to open the facility with his mother Cristi, said he was disappointed at the outcome of the meeting, not only because he didn’t feel he was given sufficient time to address the concerns personally, but also because of what he characterized as the misinformed prejudice of commenters about how they perceive people recovering from addition.
“Addiction and substance abuse affects all walks of life. I know very successful individuals who have the illness of addiction,” said Leafstedt, who has been in recovery for years. “I chose this area because of its beauty, the feeling of the community and my own experience that has shown me that rural settings are very effective in aiding the recovery process. Addiction is a recognized medical condition, and as such those recovering are a protected class, just like anyone who is suffering from cancer or muscular dystrophy.”
Healing Pines sits on 40 acres of land, and includes a 6,500-square-foot home, which would house up to eight residents, all men aged 18 and older. Leafstedt hopes to incorporate gardening, equine therapy, yoga and relaxation therapies into the program.
Before public comments were opened during the meeting, Commissioner Peter Hoogendyk expressed concerns about the purchase and deed to the property.
“I’m concerned about the purchase of the property and the second home clause,” said Hoogendyk. “If you look at the second home agreement on the deed of trust, if we approve this we’re enabling them to bypass that in the deed of trust, and I think we would have some liability.”
Several commenters also pointed to the fact that the property had been purchased as a second home, and claimed deception on Leafstedt’s part.
“We were totally transparent with our intent with the property use when purchasing the property, and the lender is now responsible for correcting the type of loan that is suitable for our desired use,” said Leafsted in a response sent to the Elbert County News. “That is our current focus.”
Increased calls to law enforcement was also a concern expressed by several attendees, after the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office weighed in as a referral agency.
“No security plan. Calls for service will increase not only from the facility, but also from the surrounding neighborhood,” were comments submitted during the initial referral comment process last year. After Leafstedt resubmitted the proposal on Feb. 26, the department commented: “Calls for service will increase.”
Resident Laurie Forington, who lives near the proposed site, shared her concerns about increased calls.
“I’m concerned about the sheriff staff getting out there if there are any issues,” said Forington. “Based on where it’s located, and the services required, I ask that the special use permit be denied.”
Leafstedt submitted a letter along with his application for a special use by right (SUR) from Brandon Burns, chief operating officer and founder of Peaks Recovery, a 75-bed facility in Colorado Springs, stating in the five years they’ve been open, there has been no increase in law enforcement calls to the neighborhood.
“In our experience, especially in the managing of homes that are much more proximate to neighbors here in Colorado Springs, and in the last five years of operating our facilities, Peaks Recovery has never had a single instance where either we had to call on police, the neighbors had to call on the police, or the local code enforcement division was ever called upon due to our patients disrupting the community,” Burns stated.
Some commenters stated they have experience in law enforcement, and had seen firsthand the problems that people suffering from addiction can cause.
“There is nothing inaccurate about what Sheriff Norton described,” said Leafstedt. “It’s what can happen at a poorly run facility that is not properly staffed and that admits the wrong type of client for the services they provide. Our clients come to us voluntarily, they’re not using and they’re ready to seek help. We screen them for any medical or psychiatric issues that we are not equipped to handle.”
Kevin McHugh, who lives catty-corner from the property, expressed concern for children in the area.
“My main concern is the safety of our children. The closest properties to this place all have children,” said McHugh. “They cannot stop a resident from leaving the property and entering the surrounding properties. Our children ride their bikes and walk along the county roads. We moved to this beautiful area not to have a drug treatment center next to us. I don’t consider males over 18 a protected class of people.”
Cindy Campbell, whose property is adjacent to the proposed facility, was concerned about the fire hazard residents might pose, even though the proposal includes plans to adhere to county guidelines regarding smoking areas, including a three-foot-wide area free of any flammable items.
“We are a very dry area, and I have a very serious concern about the fire hazard out there,” said Campbell. “If they’re out there smoking in their little three-foot area it doesn’t mean anything to them to flip a cigarette butt out into the woods. Anyone’s homes could be gone in minutes because of their carelessness.”
Leafstedt said he’s saddened by the beliefs that portray those recovering from addiction as careless, violent or lawbreaking people.
“We screen all of our applicants — anyone with a violent or sexual assault background is not permitted,” he said. “I know some really incredible people who are recovering, and they’re good citizens, responsible people. Many of them function in society without ever having a DUI, they’ve never been fired, their marriages and family lives haven’t crumbled. They’re just good people who are ready to address their addiction.”
The discussion was tabled, and Leafstedt must reapply with the county after addressing the issues of the deed, as well as an easement issue with adjoining neighbors that ceased at the time of property transfer. Leafstedt said he hopes they can work things out and go forward with the proposed facility.
“Cristi and I hope to be a part of the community here for a long time,” said Leafstedt. “We understand how much you value the way of life that you have chosen, and we do not want to disrupt it. We’d like to be part of it. We were attracted to this area for many of the same reasons you were — safety, peace, tranquility and its natural beauty. Ultimately, we have to earn your trust. We can’t simply demand that you believe what we say. The success of our endeavor requires that we do what we can to be good neighbors.”
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