Herald JournalHerald Journal, Oct. 24, 2005

Emotions run high, again

By Lynda Jensen


More than 70 people packed the Stockholm Township hall last Monday to continue heated discussion about a proposed home for recovering drug addicts, tentatively set to be constructed southeast of Cokato and southwest of Howard Lake.

Although the township planning and zoning board has heard considerable input against the project – and heard another hour of unhappy residents afraid for their safety and peace of mind that night – there appears to be little legal grounds that the township board itself may use to prevent New Beginnings, the sponsor of the home, from going forward with the project, said township attorney William Goodrich. “There is no statuatory protection,” he said.

However, planning and zoning stopped short of endorsing a permit needed for such a project, instead expressing the desire to research the vague language contained in statues pertaining to it, and extending the date for public comment until Thursday, Oct. 27.

New Beginnings attorney John Peterson described the proceedings as procedural and asked planning and zoning to endorse a conditional use permit as simply a permitted use permit; the latter of which requires fewer restrictions.

It was noted that planning and zoning is an agency that can only recommend, and not actually approve, a permit; since it merely advises the township board, which in turn approves or denies official actions.

Passionate voices for, against

Several residents repeated earlier concerns about safety, objecting to the supervision being given the home tenants, which will number between six and 12.

“Speaking for the majority, I am not against treatment,” said township resident Allan Guennigsman. “Our main concern is where it’s located. My wife and family are concerned for our safety.”

Others who spoke included:

- resident Becky Howell, a Wright County drug task force agent, who was against the project,

- Wright County public health nurse Ann Benson who endorsed New Beginnings, as well as New Beginnings primary counselor Becky Koster of Litchfield who did the same,

- at least two former meth addicts who went through the process at New Beginnings and are productive members of society speaking in favor of the project,

- and a string of residents who vehemently opposed having a home of this nature plopped into a sparsely populated area with limited police protection available.

Howell questioned the words “vulnerable adults” in the open letter to Stockholm Township residents printed last week, paid for by New Beginnings. These words are defined by state statute and probably aren’t applicable here, she said.

In the letter, New Beginnings also stated it would not take predatory or violent residents, Howell said. “How will they know?” she asked. The facility doesn’t make criminal background checks to her knowledge, she said.

Resident Lori DeRosier questioned what happens when the recovering drug addicts stop taking their medications and voluntarily leave the facility, which they are allowed to do. She also said that the property in question is actually owned by Recovery Real Estate, and not New Beginnings; contrary to its advertisement last week.

In tears, Patricia Guennigsman accused New Beginnings of being deceptive about the number of times that police have been at the facility in Woodland Township. She produced a slip of paper with incident reports from the Wright County Sheriff’s files. “(The sheriff’s department) has been there seven times in the last six months,” she said. “The cops haven’t been at our place that much, ever.”

The seven calls turned out to be the following, as read by township officials: one smoke detector call, one medical, an alarm going off, a fire call, one property damage/trespassing complaint, and two suspicious vehicle complaints.

“The people of Stockholm Township want answers,” said resident Mari Pokornowski.

Refusing to approve a permit based on the fact that residents don’t want it there is a matter of discrimination and prohibited by the state, Peterson said.

“We weren’t expecting a lot of opposition,” he remarked.

However, township officials were less sure, noting that statuatory language is unclear about the matter and that a previous attempt to find clear direction on this by Woodland Township ended up with murky answers.

Both attorneys said the board must decide if the home will be regulated as residential or non-residential.

It was noted that since the home is not where the actual treatment is taking place and only sleeping quarters for women who are undergoing daytime treatment, it isn’t required to be licensed, as the main location of New Beginnings in Waverly is.

This leaves the township to decide whether to regulate the home via a conditional use permit, or as a permitted use, Peterson said. “They’re not opposed to having reasonable conditions applied,” he said.

Drugs are here

One recovered drug addict, Chad Henk of Hutchinson, told the crowded room that residents should be more concerned with the drug addicts in the community who aren’t interested in rehabilitation rather than those who voluntarily checked themselves into treatment facilities such as these.

“These are people trying to get better,” he said of the home tenants. “There’s not enough room -- there’s a waiting list for people to get help,” he said.

“There is meth being manufactured all around here,” he continued. “I used to get meth here.” In fact, meth is available right in the parking lot of the high school, he said. “Meth is being offered daily,” Henk said.

Residents should be more concerned about parents who don’t keep track of their kids at night. “I’m afraid for addicts who aren’t getting help,” he said.

Another addict, Julie Nordquist, said that she lived 45 days in a home such as the one being proposed, and has been drug-free for nine months.

“I love everything, even my son,” she said. “I lost my morals. I had to relearn.”

“God is in my life today,” Nordquist continued. Like a person with diabetes, she has to take medications, she said.

“You watch the news, of meth labs being busted,” she said. “Meth is overtaking the world.”

“Let’s keep in mind that these are people,” said recovered drug addict, Scott Paul, who is now a counselor at New Beginnings. “These are human beings crying for help.” A lot of meth addicts do get better, he said, and eventually become taxpayers who contribute to society again.

As for Nordquist, “(New Beginnings) gave this little boy back to his mother,” Paul said, referring to the little boy who was at the meeting with his mother. “Where would he be now? In a state hospital? Being addicted to crack or meth isn’t a death sentence.”

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