Chicago Neighbors Angry About Treatment Facility Set to Open in Their Hood

By Zachary Siegel 07/17/15

All the usual NIMBY arguments—the children, the traffic, the property values, the chaos—are being trotted out.

Rosecrance Lakeview
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A vocal group of concerned citizens are petitioning to keep their Chicago neighborhood “safe” by forcing Rosecrance, a not-for-profit substance abuse treatment facility, to shut down its plans to operate a young adult sober residence and counseling center in the residential area of Lakeview.

Many within close proximity to the treatment facility, which is currently under construction, have posted comments stating their various reasons for signing the petition:

  • “This proposed facility is minutes from three schools, 500 feet from a park. The location is not conducive for safety either for the residents or for the clients of the new facility,” wrote David Geiselhart.
  • Gerard Judge wrote that he has “invested too much money in my condo [and] my building over the last eight years to have it lose value because of this unlawful and stealth-like project.”
  • Sara Hochman said that she is very concerned about a “high correlation between drug rehab facilities and severe mental disorders, the likelihood for relapse and other crimes.”

All of these quibbles came to a head at a rowdy community meeting. Neighbors butted heads with Rosecrance representatives as well as the neighborhood's alderman, Tom Tunney. So many residents showed up to voice their opinion that the small venue serving beer and pizza had to turn many away.

Ariel Cheung, a reporter at DNAinfo, said the meeting became so tense that at one point it was almost shut down.

Cheung quoted Aaron Eiger, a frustrated local resident saying, “This is the most stressed I've ever been in my entire life" after expressing how he felt “bait-and-switched” by the developer. 

“There is nothing stealthy or underground about it,” Christopher Yadron, director of Chicago Recovery Services at Rosecrance, told The Fix. “It is not a bait and switch.”

The Fix reached out to “Keep Lakeview Safe,” the collective of neighbors who started the petition. Community member Joseph Greer was the only one willing to respond to our questions.

He told The Fix that his younger brother died from a heroin overdose and that “more than most, I know what a devastating impact addiction can have." With respect to the current dilemma, “some people feel like this was an attempt by Rosecrance to ram the approval through with little community say in the matter."

Yardon of Rosecrance counters the community’s frustrations saying that the property in question was originally being built to house condominiums. “We then came along and purchased the contract but with contingencies,” around April.

Since then, “We have begun the process of communicating with the community. We’ve offered to create an advisory committee with community members where concerns can be heard so that we can function as good neighbors,” he said.

“We’re hoping Lakeview welcomes the work that we do,” Yardon concluded.

Alderman Tunney, who called for Wednesday night’s meeting, has yet to take a stand on the issue. His chief of staff told The Fix that they are preparing to issue a statement. But at the climactic community meeting Tunney deferred his opinion to the zoning board.

At the heart of this matter are the 30 former drug users, ages ranging from 18 to 26, who may potentially reside in the facilities sober-living quarters on the second, third, and fourth floors. As it stands, Rosecrance has yet to be approved with a special use permit to house this many individuals at the location under construction.

Melissa Gibson, a member of the community wrote, “I believe that willfully concentrating 24-30 unpredictable, transient individuals with no ties to our community within our heavily residential, family-oriented neighborhood would have a significant, negative impact on the safety and welfare of our neighborhood.”

But Greer told The Fix, “More than the crime concern, which is clearly debatable, the issue of increased congestion, traffic, and other externalities are undeniably going to follow. It is those I and my neighbors are most concerned about."

In order to oppose Rosecrance’s sober residence, the petitioners will need to thoroughly demonstrate to the zoning board that harms would be done to the community by allowing such an institution to operate.

Rosecrance will then likely need to show that they will do their best to prevent such harms.

The zoning board has postponed their meeting on this issue of the sober residence until further community discussion takes place. But the question lurking underneath all of the noise is: if not their backyard, then whose?

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.