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Media Articles - 2000s

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3 December 2002
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Detox center's future at stake:
Zoning board to decide whether it can operate at lake

Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, MI)
May 6, 2002

Debate over a zoning request by the owners of the proposed drug and alcohol rehabilitation center on St. Mary's Lake will come to a head Tuesday with an expected ruling by the Pennfield Township Zoning Board of Appeals.

Owners Per and Kate Wickstrom applied for a use variance that would enable them to open a Narconon detoxification center in the former Neuro-Rehabilitation Center.

"There is a need for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in this community," said Kate Wickstrom, who purchased the property with her husband last year. "We feel that things are going pretty well with meeting everybody's needs. ... Everyone that I have talked to has been supportive."

But Ken Bess, a lake resident and neighbor of the property, said he'd rather see the property remain vacant than have a drug rehabilitation center move in.

"We just don't want it," the 23-year resident said. "This is a residential neighborhood and a use variance does not fit in with the master plan that Pennfield Township has established."

Since the head trauma center moved two or three years ago, the property at 215 St. Mary's Lake Road has gone through a series of owners, leaving many residents wondering when something will be done. The property has been zoned residential since 2000, but previously was zoned for commercial use.

Last year, Bess and many other residents strongly opposed an effort to change the property's zoning status to allow for the development of a condominium complex.

"It's too valuable a piece a property for it to sit idle like it is," said Woody Booher, president of the St. Mary's Lake Association.

Booher said the association took no official position on the proposed zoning change because lake residents are divided on the subject.

"It was the thought of the board of directors that there are those who are for it and there are those who are against," Booher said.

The Stonehawk Drug Rehabilitation Center will follow a strict regiment of classes, proper eating habits and the use of saunas as laid out by author L. Ron Hubbard in his book "Clear Body, Clear Mind," Kate Wickstrom said. It would not accept residents with court-mandated sentences.

"I can't imagine why this request would be turned down because this has been a rehabilitation center for years," said Wickstrom, who insists the couple is more than willing to make necessary concessions to please the neighbors.

"We've invested everything we have in this plan .... What can we do to work together?"

If the use variance is approved, the center will have to go through a site plan review with the planning commission.

Will Banks, another neighbor, is trying keeping an open mind about the center but eventually added, "I guess I would prefer not to see them come in."

John Darlington, chairman of the Pennfield Zoning Board of Appeals, would not comment about whether the variance is expected to pass because he said he's not made up his mind.

"The way (the Wickstroms) have been going about this has been proper," he said, noting that variances of this kind are not common. "Obtaining a non-use variance should be difficult at best ... only the rare situations should be qualified."

One question a number of residents have is what will happen to the property if it is sold - whether the variance is granted or not.

"There's always a concern," Booher said of what would happen with the property's zoning status in the event the Wickstroms sold the building to another drug rehabilitation center with less stringent standards.

Because the variance already would be in place, Darlington said a new center would not have to go through with the same process.

"We understand something less desirable could come in here and we want to work with the township on this," Wickstrom said.

Nevertheless, Bess remains skeptical.

"But once they're in here there's not much you're going to do about it," he said.

If you go

- WHAT: Public hearing on a zoning use variance request for Stonehawk Drug Rehabilitation Center.

- WHERE: Pennfield High School cafeteria, 8587 Pennfield Road.

- WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.