By Kathy Feist
The Kansas City Missouri Plan Commission approved plans for a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center at 12942 Wornall Rd. The plans, which were approved June 15 with some objections from neighbors, were recommended for approval to the City Council. On July 1st, the Council overwhelming approved an area plan amendment and rezoning plan both of which change the property from residential to hospital. A Special Use Permit for the project will be heard by the Board of Zoning Adjustment on July 13th.
The property will become a gated community with decorative fencing surrounding the area and a chain link fence in the heavily wooded area at the west. “We want to control people having access to the facility as well as create a safe environment for members in treatment,” said Sana Lake CEO Paul Melnuk.
An apartment complex at the west end of the property will be demolished to make way for a recreation area, which will include basketball, beach volleyball and pickleball courts. A running track will circle the courtyard.
Plans also include a mulched walking trail within the woods. “Our concept is about recovering the body, mind and spirit,” said Melnuk. The original recovery center outside St. Louis sits on a 54-acre lakefront campus.
The Kansas City facility, which currently has 160 beds, will be remodeled to provide up to 115 beds. However, the first phase of development will only contain 80 beds. A fitness center, meditation room, and group meeting rooms will fill in the spaces.
The facility will be run by a medical doctor specializing in addiction. The facilitator will be joined by nurse practitioners, various trauma therapy specialists, addiction and peer counselors and various staff.
Objections to the treatment center at the commission meeting included concerns over the impact of the fence on the natural habitat in the wooded area, lower property values, heavier traffic and increased crime. The two neighborhoods represented were Blue Hills Estates, which objected to the fence, and Woodbridge, which is still reverberating from a shooting spree six years ago that killed five people in the otherwise peaceful neighborhood.
Attorney Bob Johnson, who represented Sana Lake at the meeting, addressed the opposition to a fence by reminding neighbors that Sana Lake’s commitment to preserving the woods is a positive aspect. Another buyer might want to level the woods for development opportunities, he said. He assured that the chain link fence will follow the natural contours of the wooded area and meet EPA guidelines.
He said the amount of traffic from staff would amount to 120 employees staggered over 24 hours. He said there would be fewer residents–all without vehicles–at the facility than were at the former nursing center.
As for higher crime, Johnson said the preconception “was an antiquated view of those seeking treatment for conditions that are recognized health concerns.”
“Treatment centers don’t house violent offenders,” he said. “They are not detention facilities.” He quoted 82% of those receiving treatment are employed and voluntarily seeking recovery.
A study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health seems to support Johnson’s statements. The study found that drug treatment centers “do not impact communities any more than other commercial businesses.” Instead they found that areas around liquor stores and corner stores (mom and pop convenience shops) saw 25% more homicides, rapes, aggravated assaults and robberies than the areas around drug treatment centers.
“Sana Lake has no history of violent crime or impact to surrounding neighbors,” he said. Sana Lake currently has a Behavioral Wellness Center in north Kansas City for intense or lower level outpatient therapy.
The residential center will offer six days in detox and 30 days in residential. That number is driven by insurance companies, according to Melnuk. Most studies show that the longer an addict stays in a residential program–with 90 days being the ultimate goal– the better the outcome. To compensate, Sana Lake requires a robust outpatient program for an additional two to four weeks through its Behavioral Wellness Center. That phase may include a stay at “sober houses,” where those in recovery share room and board at a local residence.
Melnuk, who is 18 years clean and sober, is happy about the opportunity to help others. A retired owner of 15 different businesses and corporations, Melnuk said he’s happy to combine his business experience with his passion for recovery. “In the recovery community, we call it doing well by doing good.”