Neighbors protest residential rehab center

Posted at 10:31 PM, Jan 13, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-14 00:31:46-05

ST. GEORGE -- Steps Recovery opened its St. George facility Monday amid ongoing protests from neighbors.

The center is opening about two months behind schedule, and while there are still some finishing touches that need to be made, the staff is moving in clients. It was originally planned as a 24-bed facility, but Steps Recovery scaled back to eight.

The center sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood, owners say that’s the environment they wanted when choosing a location.

“To get the best therapeutic value you really have to have a sense of community,” said program director Josh Campbell. “It works best in a residence so that these people can open up in groups that they have a sense of home, a feeling of home.”

But neighbors say they feel owners went behind their backs and the center belongs elsewhere.

“We have no problem whatsoever with drug addicts, alcoholics getting treatment,” said neighbor Patrick Abernathy. “But put it in a place that is appropriate for commercial business.”

Abernathy is one of several neighbors who say they’ve seen property values decrease because of the center moving in. Abernathy said he’d had his home for sale for a few months, but couldn’t get what it was worth.

“We had interested buyers,” Abernathy said. “When they learn of this facility here, they see the signs, they back away.”

Neighbors say the bottom line is it’s a zoning issue. Federal law allowed Steps Recovery owner Mike Jorgensen to build the center without a zoning change, and protestors say it’s not right.

“I’m well aware of the need,” Abernathy said. “But not in a residential neighborhood.”

Campell said they hope neighbors in opposition will learn to appreciate the work they do at the recovery center, and embrace the new neighbors as part of the community.

“I think there’s a lot of fear based, not understanding what we do, who these people are and what they’re going through,” Campbell said.

Jorgenson will have to apply for a conditional-use permit to expand the facility to a 24-bed facility.