After hearing from surrounding property owners during a lengthy public hearing, a split Tooele City Planning Commission forwarded a negative recommendation for a rezone of the former Harris Elementary School during its Wednesday night meeting.
The application from Skull Valley Health Care would rezone the 9.42-acre property from R1-7 residential to MR-8 multi-family residential to repurpose it for a drug rehabilitation center. The staff report for the proposed rezone noted the school building would not be torn down, but remain and be utilized.
During the public hearing, residents adjacent to the former school described concerns about drug traffic, vehicle traffic and property values if the property was rezoned and used for a drug rehab center.
Randy Green said he is totally against a drug rehabilitation center in the area and said there is already a lot of foot traffic in the area by people he claimed to be homeless.
“I don’t quite understand how they can take that school and make it multi-family living and make it look nice,” Green said. “It should be torn down and there should be residential homes put in there.”
Austin Barney said he’s called the police multiple times in the past week in relation to drug and alcohol use and speeding vehicles on 100 East to the west of the school. Another concern he had is the effect of a drug rehab center on property values and he’s considered moving.
“It’s bad enough that I have to go out and check my yard for needles,” Barney said. “We’ve had some scary stuff in our yard.”
Steve West, the operations director for the school district, who maintains the school property and monitors it around the clock using surveillance cameras, said he’s looking forward to the property being viable again.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to repurpose the building and be able to get it back, to get it functional and to be able to use it for something again,” West said. “It’s exciting to see that happen.”
After most of the resident comments were made during the public hearing, Tyson Dixon, the CEO of Renaissance Ranch Treatment Centers, spoke. He said he understood the concerns the community had about issues such as home value and safety, but said his rehab centers in other communities have had barely any issues. Renaissance Ranch uses the 12 Steps approach to addiction treatment, along with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gospel principles, to treat alcohol and drug addiction, according to the company website.
Dixon said his rehab company is a contracted agency working with the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes. The tribe opened the Skull Valley Health Center in Overlake in 2018.
“They don’t have the funds to purchase a location and they don’t have the behavioral health and mental health and medical treatment experience that we have,” Dixon said. “So we’re partnering with them to help arrange how to provide those services and to invest in the properties we’re going to be investing in.”
Dixon said the school building would undergo a full-scale remodel, including a resurface and repainting of the exterior. About five of the classrooms would be retained as group educational areas, while the majority would be converted into bedrooms at the facility, he said.
Detox and other acute medical situations would be handled at different facilities, Dixon said. The school site would be for long-term patient stays for those looking to recover from addiction.
Commissioner Chris Sloan made a motion to forward a positive recommendation to the Tooele City Council on the rezone, which he amended to condition the rezone on use of the existing building. Commissioner Tyson Hamilton seconded the motion.
Sloan, Hamilton and Commissioner Melanie Hammer voted in favor of the positive recommendation of the rezone, while commissioners Shauna Bevan, Phil Montano and Matt Robinson voted against it. Bevan, Montano and Robinson cited the rezone not being consistent with the intent of the master plan in their opposition. The school is currently zoned R1-7 and surrounded on all sides by other R1-7 property.
Planning Commission Chair Tony Graf was the tie-breaking vote and he voted against the positive recommendation.
“I feel that in this particular packet of information, I do not have enough information to say that it meets each of the conditions that I should be looking at to approve a zoning change,” Graf said.
The rezone is now forwarded to the Tooele City Council with a negative recommendation. When the rezone is addressed by the City Council, there will be another public hearing prior to the deciding vote.