Haymarket Center hopes to push the reset button on a bid to open an addiction treatment facility in Itasca now that the village will restart the zoning process this week after a nearly yearlong hiatus.
A public hearing Wednesday will kick off another round of marathon proceedings on the plan to turn a former Holiday Inn into a 240-bed treatment center for people with substance-use disorders. The plan commission has scheduled five Haymarket meetings through Dec. 9.
For months, Haymarket has been setting the stage for a fresh start, lining up new experts to offer a rebuttal to concerns raised during a series of plan commission meetings in 2019. Haymarket also has purchased the hotel site with a $5 million donation, the largest in its 45-year history.
The nonprofit wasn't expecting the gift, but an anonymous donor frustrated with the backlash over the proposed treatment center stepped forward with the funds to pay for 85% of the hotel's purchase price, Haymarket leaders say.
But much resistance remains. A group of residents preparing to register their opposition virtually still contend the scale of the facility is too large for a town of less than 10,000 people to absorb.
State-imposed COVID-19 restrictions on DuPage County will limit the capacity of the meeting Wednesday night, barring opponents from showing up en masse to protest as they did before the delay.
Itasca officials are livestreaming the hearing on YouTube and encouraging residents to submit written questions or comments in advance.
Haymarket initially filed its zoning request in July 2019 and tried for months to secure village approval. The process was put on hold, first because of a lawsuit Haymarket filed against the village that was eventually dismissed, and then because of coronavirus lockdowns.
Haymarket leaders say they're pushing forward to help combat an opioid epidemic that's worsening during the pandemic.
Over three weeks in May, the county recorded 20 overdose deaths, mostly due to opioids. In all of 2019, the coroner's office reported 96 opioid overdose deaths.
"The longer COVID is taking, you're seeing a lot of mental health issues and substance use disorder issues escalating because you're being told to isolate," said Dr. Dan Lustig, Haymarket's president and CEO.
Haymarket already serves DuPage County patients at its headquarters in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood and through partnerships with area hospitals.
Having a treatment center in Itasca would provide accessible care within DuPage communities and close to family support systems, proponents say. The center would see about 4,750 patients a year.
By acquiring the former Holiday Inn along Irving Park Road, Haymarket can continue the village's zoning process without having to extend a tentative contract to buy the property.
In anticipation of the hearings, Haymarket released a new public safety impact report, a traffic and parking study, a revised landscape plan and a report looking at the fiscal and economic impact of the proposed facility.
In response to concerns raised by Itasca Elementary District 10, Haymarket eliminated a program that would have allowed young children to accompany their parents who are in treatment.
"I have continued to hope that this will be a major reset for everybody, and that as I said before, we could take a collective breath here, and just let's take a look at the data together," Lustig said. "Let's come together as a team to address a very significant public health threat."
Opponents say they don't dispute that treatment options are needed in the fight against the opioid crisis. But they say Itasca is too small to support a 240-bed facility. Their Facebook group has amassed 1,800 members.
"The issue that we have is this large of a facility, a 240-bed regional drug treatment center, can't properly be absorbed by a small town of 8,700 people," said James Diestel, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Itasca group. "We looked far and wide to try to find any kind of facility of this magnitude being put in a very small town but were unable to come up with anything."
Diestel said such a center belongs in a town with several fire stations and an EMS service that can handle emergency calls.
"You are impacting our fire department, which has a single ambulance, and our EMS service, which is designed to take care of a small village, not a very large regional drug treatment center," Diestel said.
Haymarket leaders say they have a contract with Elite Ambulance to handle the majority of ambulance calls. But Diestel said it would be likely Haymarket would call an Itasca rig in a life-threatening emergency.
Haymarket officials say Elite is the second-largest private ambulance service in the state and equipped to provide coverage. Elite now runs about 110 calls a year for an Itasca nursing home.
According to the public safety impact report submitted by Haymarket and prepared by retired Wilmette Fire Chief James Dominik, the proposed facility is projected to require 55 to 73 police responses and 18 to 26 fire and EMS calls each year.
In an emergency, a medical team staffing the site round-the-clock would stabilize the patient and "helps to triage" whether to request the Elite or village ambulance, Lustig said.
"We, as an organization, are going to continue to monitor this," Lustig said. "And if there is a need for me to add on a secondary service, ambulance service, we will do that."