SYCAMORE – The City Council on Monday approved the county’s request to operate a sober living home out of 491 E. State St. and also entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the county, effectively ending the past six months of heated back-and-forth between the county and city officials about the use of the property.
County Administrator Gary Hanson said he was “elated” the City Council came to the decision in favor of the special use permit and the intergovernmental agreement in a 7-1 vote.
“We think it’s a good move for the community and the whole county that we will find a compromise and work together on this,” Hanson said, adding the county will close on the purchase of the home, valued at $145,000, in the next week. It will be at least two months before the seven all-male recovering drug and alcohol addicts and one counselor will move into the house, Hanson said.
Alderman Steve Braser was the sole “no” vote against the sober living home at the proposed location.
“I still think they’re missing the issue,” he said. “There’s been no change from what they want to do. When I vote ‘no’ against this tonight, it’s not going to be no against the sober living house, it’s going to be no against 491 E. State St.”
After two in-depth discussions with Drug Court Judge Robbin Stuckert, Mayor Ken Mundy flipped his opinion on the sober living home – once outspoken against pulling the property off the city’s tax roll – and began lobbying for the use of the sober living home at the proposed property based on the in-depth homework that Stuckert and the rest of the county did on four other properties.
He said the county didn’t convey its research on other possible locations explicitly enough to the council to sway opinion.
“I thought they passed over that when they were with [the] Council and hadn’t dwelled on that or made a strong enough point,” Mundy said.
To address concerns that have been raised throughout the process, the city and county entered into an intergovernmental agreement as of Monday that states the city can revoke the special use permit if the property proves unsuitable. Also, the agreement states the county will make a contribution to the school district in lieu of the property taxes (100 percent is to be contributed the first year). The agreement also puts limitations on visitors, requires fencing added to the property and designates it a smoke-free facility, with designated smoking areas.
County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. praised the agreement and the city’s decision.
“They really took a thoughtful approach to the intergovernmental agreement and towards the situation and really thought about it,” he said. “I’m very pleased with their response tonight and working with them as partners to make sure this is a successful program.”
During public comment, Michelle Schulz, who also is vice president of the Sycamore Park District, gave an impassioned plea in favor of the sober living home, even saying she changed her mind after an “epiphany” in the last two weeks.
“They deserve a second chance,” she told the council. “That embodies what Sycamore is all about. By continuing to vote no, you’re hurting the wrong people.”