No decision on Spero rezoning after seven-hour hearing

Decision now expected Dec. 8

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 11/19/20

Jefferson County commissioners heard emotional testimony — but came to no decision — during a seven-hour hearing over whether Spero Recovery Center should be allowed to rezone two properties on …

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No decision on Spero rezoning after seven-hour hearing

Decision now expected Dec. 8

Posted

Jefferson County commissioners heard emotional testimony — but came to no decision — during a seven-hour hearing over whether Spero Recovery Center should be allowed to rezone two properties on Buffalo Park Road in Evergreen to provide overnight accommodations to staff and those seeking addiction recovery services.

Instead, the three commissioners agreed a little before 5 p.m. on Nov. 17 to adjourn to an executive session with the county attorney to get legal advice related to their decision. They will continue the hearing on Dec. 8 and suggested a decision will be made then.

Central to the debate has been whether Spero, which offers daily services to clients who are transported to nearby homes that it rents at night, is a community use. Fire stations, senior centers, arts centers and other facilities designated as community uses under county regulations can be located throughout the county no matter what the zoning is.

County planner Philip Taylor said that staff determined that Spero is a community use and that negative impacts relating to the property have been properly mitigated, leading to the planning department’s recommendation.

No decision on Spero rezoning after seven-hour hearing Decision now expected Dec. 8 However, many neighbors have loudly protested what they call Spero’s negative impact on their neighborhoods’ quality of life and property values, and they have concerns about security and wildfire threats. They voiced those concerns to the Planning Commission earlier this month during 11 hours of testimony and debate, and the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to recommend denial, saying the recovery center was not a community use.

Spero’s lawyer, Brian Connolly, cautioned the county commissioners against letting their decision be influenced by concerns about allowing a facility that serves those recovering from drug addiction into the neighborhood. He explained that being in treatment for drug addiction is considered a protected disability characteristic under federal law, and therefore any negative perceptions of that characteristic cannot be considered in land-use decisions.

Butch Lewis with Spero also argued that the recovery center provides an important health care service in the community, and adding residential living to the facility would be consistent with the residential nature of the surrounding neighborhood.

Spero wants to rezone the former church at 29997 and the house at 29877 Buffalo Park Road from A-2, which allows agriculture and residential uses, to a planned development district. At issue is whether Spero can provide overnight accommodations for up to 45 people — 27 men in the church, 12 women in the house and six staff members in an additional building on the home property.

Among those who expressed concerns was Evergreen resident Eric Johnson, who presented a current zoning map showing there are no commercial enterprises in residential areas like Spero. Spero charges $5,400 per month for its services.

“There’s no lack of commercially zoned properties for commercial enterprises in Evergreen,” he said. “However, to rezone two obvious residential properties to commercial use I think would set a precedent, and it would be very difficult to stop continual rezoning of residential properties in Evergreen.”

Connolly said Spero should not be considered a commercial enterprise because it is a nonprofit. Meanwhile, several speakers, including Colorado Reps. Chris Kennedy and Brittany Pettersen, spoke in favor of Spero, which they argued is an important and needed health care facility that was both misunderstood and unfairly demonized by neighbors. Several people said their experience at Spero or facilities like it had been life-changing.

“I really wish the people who are talking about bettering their community of Evergreen could come by and see what we are doing,” said Peter Palladino, a veteran who has gone through recovery and now works at Spero. “I think if they could just see what we are doing with these human beings who are going through the worst time in their life and how we are helping them, then their opinion might change.”

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