Skyway House gets green light

City Council paves way for rehab facility

This week (Oct. 18) the Chico City Council denied an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval last month to locate a drug and alcohol rehab facility in north Chico.

Last month the commission voted to allow the Skyway House to move its rehab center for women from Oroville into a vacant building on The Esplanade near the Amber Grove and Greenfield Drive residential neighborhoods in north Chico.

Some 65 citizens weighed in at the meeting with comments both supporting and opposing the project during a discussion that ran 3 1/2 hours.

City Associate Planner Mike Sawley detailed the project for the council and in his report he said the facility would be compatable with the neighborhood both in form and function.

Some of the neighbors, like Robert Jeffers, a 13-year Amber Grove resident, said the rehab facility is not a good fit, that its clients and visitors will endanger the families who live nearby and its presence will lower property values.

He said the Skyway House had presented no compelling reason to locate to the Chico site.

“They tell us the future potential for problems is overblown, [but] they have no ability to predict,” he said. “Such statements are disingenious and ultimately just a distraction.”

Jeffers said residents living in the area are already feeling the devaluation of their properties just because the speculation of moving the facility to the location. Combined, he said, the 500 homeowners in the area stand to lose millions in property values.

“This is unjust and permanent harm,” he said. “Skyway House, find a location where no one gets hurt.”

Other neighbors like Nancy Henry said the area along the north Esplanade already has its share of such facilities, including the Well Ministry of Rescue and the Esplanade House, a facility for families in danger of becoming homeless.

Skyway House supporters, including employees, graduates and local law-enforcement officials, said the program is well-structured, very much needed and will not pose the anticipated problems to its new neighbors.

One person who weighed in on behalf of the move was local businessman Scott Schulman, who owns the building that houses the Oroville facility. He said on one hand he hated to lose the tenants he’s had for the past eight years. On the other hand, he praised the service and its clients, calling them wonderful people and neighbors.

“I’d love for the City Council to shoot it down so they would have to stay as my tenants in Oroville,” said Schulman, best known for owning Brooklyn Bridge Bagel Works in downtonw Chico, before the meeting began. “But unfortunatley I’m going to speak in favor of them because they happen to be the best tenants I’ve ever had in all my years of owning property.”

Opponents also argued the state’s recently imposed prison realignment law, AB 109, which relocates nonserious offenders from state penitentiaries to county jails, will define the type of client who will be placed in local rehab centers like the Skyway House.

But Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey discounted that fear and said what is needed is more treatment facilities like the Skyway House. Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney said the facility will not act as a magnate to attract unsavory types and that the Skyway House can refuse to take in those its staff percieves as potential trouble.

In the end the council voted 5-2 against the appeal, with Councilmen Mark Sorenson and Bob Evans voting in the minority. Councilman Scott Gruendl said that if the Skyway House does negatively impact the neighbors by not adhering to the rules and conditions laid out by the city’s use permit, that permit will be revoked and the facility will be shut down.