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Drug, alcohol treatment center legislation gets first reading, no action from County Council

The St. Charles County Council may decide soon whether to allow an inpatient treatment center for drug and alcohol abuse patients on an 11.53-acre unincorporated tract near the Rte. 364/Arena Parkway interchange, not far from the Missouri River.

The council gave first readings at their June 12 meeting to two bills – one for a rezoning to single-family residential with floodway fringe and floodway overlay districts, and the other for a conditional use permit to allow a convalescent home institution. The bills are sought by Harris House, a longtime treatment provider with locations in South St. Louis and Chesterfield.

Harris House, a not-for-profit corporation, offers inpatient and outpatient treatment as well as transitional housing programs for people struggling with alcohol and drugs.

The $11 to $12 million center would be on the south side of South River Road, about 400 feet east of Arena Parkway. The center would be housed in a 44,000-square-foot, two-story building, with space for up to 60 treatment beds and 40 employees. The facility would not have a view of the nearby Katy Trail and would have a 101-space parking lot.

The new facility will be designed to provide inpatient treatment and detox program for adults age 18 and older requiring a 28-day maximum stay, and will be in competition with other private and not-for-profit treatment programs.

Harris House officials met with the council at their April 10 work session to brief them on their plans. Harris House had a contract on two tracts of land that would be combined to form one tract along Arena Parkway. At that time, agency officials mentioned that they held a “meet and greet” earlier this year with local residents to outline their plans.

The rezoning and conditional use permit requests were submitted to the county planning and zoning commission, which recommended their approval at their May 17 meeting. The council took no final action on the requests at their June 12 meeting. The council’s next scheduled meeting is June 26.

The treatment center proposal drew both protests and support from area residents during a public comment portion of the council meeting.

Some nearby residents who live near the proposed facility said they had nothing against Harris House but the influx of traffic and people could take away the rural atmosphere that makes the area attractive.

An influx of people also might heighten concerns about security and the impact of the center on property values, they said. One woman said she would have to lock doors and windows at her home.

Angela Wheelehan, a teacher in the Francis Howell School District, said the area needs a treatment center, particularly with the growing heroin epidemic in the area.

She said she struggled to find a place where her 22-year-old son could receive treatment, until she found Harris House. But the treatment required long commutes to St. Louis. People have told her they wished there were other places in the area.

“Property values are important to me. I pay taxes,” Wheelehan said. “But I also think human life is as well.”

Clients in the Harris House inpatient program cannot leave the facility without an escort. Clients also don’t have private vehicles at the facility; they often are picked up or dropped off.

The facility will not be a halfway house, nor a mental health facility or a methadone clinic, although methadone patients will be treated, agency officials said. Clients will be screened and must have no violent history, suicide inclinations and criminal history other than substance-related offenses such as a DUI.

Agency officials said the facility will not have a negative effect on local property values. The property also is on a bluff area and not prone to flooding from the nearby Missouri River.

Meanwhile, County Executive Steve Ehlmann said, as he did at the April work session, that he was recusing himself from the issue because a relative is involved with nearby property.

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