Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Recovery facility receives nod from commission
New Life Lodge would provide alcohol-free setting

by Chris Schultz

June 30, 2011

Geneva — The town Plan Commission on Monday night recommended a conditional use permit for a residential center for people recovering from alcohol and other chemical addictions at the former Lutheran Social Services building at N3155 Highway H.

The permit gives the commission’s stamp of approval on a “lodging/fraternal house/nontransient sober living center,” as described by Karen Stein, owner and CEO of the proposed New Life Lodge, and doing business as KS Ministries.

Stein is a registered nurse serving Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lake Geneva. But she said the lodge will in no way be affiliated with Immanuel Lutheran Church.

The recommendation was approved 6-0 with one commissioner absent following a public hearing. The town hall meeting room was filled with area residents who support Stein and the lodge, and Lake Geneva residents of the Edgewood Hills subdivision right next door, who are more dubious about the proposal.

The nearest Edgewood house is only about 100 yards away from the lodge’s backyard, and the lodge and subdivision are separated now by only a line of trees and shrubs that quickly defoliates in winter.

Ultimately, the facility would house between 25 and 30 people who want or need to live in an environment free of alcohol and drugs.

The conditional use permit must now go to the Town Board for approval, and then goes to Walworth County for final approval.

According to the conditional use permit request, the property is a two-story building zoned B-2 for business use.

The positive recommendation came after nearly two hours of emotional testimony and questioning from those both for and against the residential center.

Five conditions, imposed by the Plan Commission, came with the approval.

- New Life Lodge will accept Walworth County residents only.

- Stein will adhere to the business plan she presented to the Geneva town Plan Commission earlier.

- A maximum of 16 residents will be allowed to live in the lodge during the first six months. And the facility’s performance will be reviewed one year after receiving its operating permit, and will be reviewed again two years after receiving the permit at a public hearing.

- The facility will have a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

- A six-foot-tall privacy fence will be installed along the south side of the lodge property, which faces the Lake Geneva subdivision.

It was the last condition that brought the most objection from Stein and her supporters.

Because many of the houses in the subdivision are built on high ground, the privacy fence won’t provide much privacy either way. But Lake Geneva residents said they regarded the fence as necessary for “peace of mind.”

Stein and some of her supporters regarded the fence as nothing more than an insult to the people who need the lodge’s help. However, they acquiesced.

Town Board Chairman Joe Kopecky, who chairs the Plan Commission, said the fence requirement would come up for review with the lodge’s overall one-year review.

The building was first used as a motel and then taken over by Lutheran Social Services as a 16-bed residential facility serving adults with developmental disabilities and serious and persistent mental illness.

Stein said New Life Lodge’s purpose is to provide a sober haven for 25 to 30 men and women who have been involved in an active recovery program with an assigned sponsor.

Those who apply for residency would be screened by Stein and the house managers.

“I’m not taking anyone who doesn’t want to get better,” said Stein. She said the screening process would eliminate anyone with a history of violence or acts against children.

Clients would be under the supervision of a house manager, who would live on the premises and oversee daily home activities. Three full time managers would live on the premises, each working an eight-hour shift each day.

Clients would be charged a fee of $120 a week, which would cover the basic food and utility bills, Stein said. The facility will be nonprofit.

Stein said the lodge residents would live with roommates with similar disabilities.

Residents would be required to follow regulations, including a curfew, and be actively involved in a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous.

All lodge residents would either work, attend school or perform mandatory community service during the week. They would also participate in the daily chores.

The lodge program will maintain a zero-tolerance rule toward alcohol and drug use. If that rule is broken, the offender would be discharged and transported either to a treatment center, a social service agency or to a relative’s house, Stein said.

Stein said it is her vision that New Life Lodge will become a model program that will serve as a witness to this community and God’s love and forgiveness.

None of the residents would be sponsored by any correctional facility, she added.

Subdivision residents, many who have children, were concerned about security, and the possibility that lodge residents would be wandering through their properties.

Stein said she anticipates that most of her clients will also have children, who will come to visit. Part of the plan for the lodge is to have a playroom for those children, she said.

“Addiction does not always equal danger,” Stein said.

Stein and other supporters of the lodge said that most of the alcoholics and addicts are already in their neighborhoods, many living in expensive houses and driving expensive cars.

Carl Waschow, an Edgewood Hills residents, said that he was also concerned about people in the community who were alcoholics and addicts. “But we’re not concentrating 30 of them into one area,” he added.

Michael Pody of Lake Geneva, challenged assertions the lodge would not affect the values of surrounding properties. Pody owns a three-unit apartment next to the lodge. He said he’s already had one rental applicant withdraw his application when he learned that the residential center was moving in next door.

In a bit of ironic scheduling, Stein’s request for conditional use for New Life Lodge came after an appeal to the town Plan Commission by Mars Resort for a conditional use permit to build a beer garden.

Among those who testified in support of the lodge was Lori Hartz of Lake Geneva, who lost her previous husband to a drunken driver, leaving her to raise four children.

“Why not help people before something really bad happens?” Hartz asked. “I find it interesting that a guy proposing a beer garden got laughs, but people are against a plan to help other people stop drinking.”