S. Utah community divided over proposed alcohol, drug treatment facility

Posted at 10:10 PM, Oct 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-16 00:10:49-04

ST. GEORGE - The placement of a proposed alcohol and drug treatment house in a St. George neighborhood has divided a community. Some say it will degrade the neighborhood, but others support the work it represents.

The facility is an expansion of Payson based Steps Recovery. Owner Mike Jorgensen said the facility was planned as a 24-bed facility, but accommodations have been made to make it an eight bedroom facility. The changes mean they will not need to seek an exemption to city. But residents in the neighborhood would rather the group home be elsewhere.

“We believe there is a place for them,” said neighbor Kyle Killian. “But it does not belong in a residential neighborhood.”

Others, however, are supportive of the work Steps Recovery is trying to do and say they’d welcome the center and its residents.

“These people are there because they want to get better,” said neighbor Jeannie Rowley. “And these kinds of facilities will do that for them.”

The issue of a drug and alcohol joining the neighborhood has in many ways divided the neighborhood. Some neighbors say they’re reluctant to talk openly about it because some have received threats.

But the battle may be of little consequence because the law sides with Jorgensen. Current city ordinances do allow for group homes of up to eight people without a special permit. The Americans with Disabilities Act would make it difficult for the city to deny a conditional use permit application. Drug and alcohol dependent people are considered disabled under the ADA.

“The ADA obviously trumps any city ordinance,” said St. George Assistant City Manager Marc Mortensen. “So our hands are rather tied in this situation.”

Mortensen said city officials are aware of the opposition and will make sure Jorgensen complies with city policies.

Jorgensen said he hopes once they open the facility and people see the kind of program they run the opposition will find many of their fears are incorrect.

Opponents say they’ve been labeled as insensitive to drug and alcohol treatment.  However, Warren Church, another neighbor in opposition to the facility said he would disapprove of whatever kind of business tried to locate in their residential neighborhood.