Petoskey planners table decision on Narconon facility


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NEWS: Local/Regional

Petoskey planners table decision on Narconon facility

Friday, April 22, 2005 1:45 PM EDT

Petoskey's planners on Thursday heard two hours of public comment, most of it unfavorable, before postponing a decision on TIA Corp.'s request for a special use permit to establish a substance abuse treatment center on Arlington Avenue.

The planners, meeting before an overflow crowd in Petoskey's City Hall, voted unanimously to schedule a special session to make their final decision. That session was tentatively set for Thursday, May 5.

In moving to table, planner John Jorgensen said the planning commission had received enough new information in the past few days to warrant a thorough review of the issues before a final vote.

"There is no denying that our society needs help in dealing with alcohol and drug abuse," Jorgensen said. "The community has obviously brought to our attention their serious concerns for this particular use in this particular area.

"There's been a lot of information garnered this evening, and there's been a lot of information that's been presented to us over the past several days.

"I am not generally one that likes to put something off and table it, but I want to make sure that I know what I'm talking about before we vote on this application."

"I think we need to be clear on the issues and our decision has to be well researched and well-founded. We need to be able to review individually and collectively before we make a decision," he said, adding that he believes the commission has the right and the discretion to approve or deny the request.

Chairman Gary Greenwell said he agreed with Jorgensen, and emphasized the outpouring of public response to the proposal. The commission has received more than 130 letters from the public, almost all of them asking the request be denied.

Three of the nine planning commissioners were absent from Thursday's session, which was attended by about 115 members of the public and TIA executive director Kate Wickstrom, her business partner and former husband, Per Wickstrom, their attorney, Michael Corcoran of Charlevoix, and architect, Chip Ironsides of Petoskey.

If the planning commission approves the permit, TIA expects to acquire the former Reus Residence convalescent home on Arlington Avenue just east of MacDonald Drive, expand the building and operate a 63-bed residential substance abuse treatment center there using the Narconon treatment methodology.

Ironsides presented architectural plans that had been revised to meet planners' objections, and the Wickstroms offered assurances that the facility's residents would be strictly supervised as they have been at TIA's Stone Hawk Rehabilitation Center at a much larger campus on St. Mary's Lake near Battle Creek.

Corcoran warned the planners that if they denied TIA's request for the special use permit, they could be found to have engaged in exclusionary zoning, a practice forbidden under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Attorney Nathaniel Stroup, speaking for a group of Arlington Avenue residents, said Corcoran's argument was "bogus" and that the land use would be too intensive and proposed center was not suited for a residential area. He said there were better sites for such a center in rural locations.

Other members of the public offered comments that ranged from personal tragedies at the hands of unsupervised residents of treatment centers to fears that residents would roam the streets alone.

Most speakers said they accepted the fact that society needs help in stemming alcohol and drug abuse, but said they felt the number of residents was too dense for a two-acre site located so close to residential areas.

Rod Slocum, executive director of the Bay View Association, and the association's president, Tom Shearer, asked the planners to deny the permit.

"Many in our community are vulnerable - the young and the elderly," Shearer said, pointing out that Bay View is only 310 feet from the Reus property. "The reality is, the potential for problems is there. We are a neighbor, trying to be a good neighbor," he said.

Slocum, who estimated that about a third of the audience were members of the association, said Bay View has 445 seasonal homes, over 165 acres of dedicated forest and over five miles of trails.

"Our mission statement is to benefit the community. We are proud of our relation with the city and of our special status of National Historic Landmark," he said.

"We hope you deny the request. It is not compatible with our rich history."

Fred Gray can be contacted at 439-9374, or


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