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Rehab house proposal fuels emotion

Dozens of Helga Township residents turned out Monday night to voice concerns about a request by Restore House, a faith-based chemical-dependency treatment home, to hold nine people at a home in the township. JOHN HAGEMAN | BEMIDJI PIONEER

HELGA TOWNSHIP –  Dozens of people packed Helga Town Hall to hear a proposal to allow Restore House, the faith-based chemical-dependency treatment home a conditional use permit to hold nine people at a home in the township.

But the house may be purchased without the township’s approval.

The public hearing on a conditional use permit for the home, held by the Helga Township Planning and Zoning Commission, lasted for two hours before its predetermined cutoff time of 9 p.m.

The non-profit needed the conditional use permit to house nine people. But if there are six or less people living there, a permit is not required.

Mary Greer, program director of Restore House, indicated they intended to go forward with purchasing the home whether they could have six or nine people there. She said they are “close” to closing on the property.

The township board meeting was held immediately after the commission meeting. Neither meeting concluded before this edition went to print.

Many residents made their opinions known during – and before – the public hearing. Many of the concerns centered around neighborhood safety.

Michael Rawitscher, owner of Camp Thunderbird, expressed concern for the children that attend his camp.

“Parents entrust me to take care of those children,” Rawitscher said. He was also one of many people that said they weren’t against the idea of a treatment facility, but not in their neighborhood.

Wayne Davis questioned if Helga Township is the appropriate location for the home.

Meanwhile, Restore House staff and board members assured the residents that it would be a safe facility. They said they wouldn’t be proposing the home if they believe it posed a public safety issue.

The conditional use permit request from Restore House was for the house at 51756 229th Ave.

The current house at 1001 Mississippi Ave. NW in Bemidji currently holds six people. That home would be converted into a women’s home.

John Szurpicki, Restore House board president, said the Helga Township home was picked so their clients could experience solitude and quiet during treatment.

Other residents indicated that they believed Restore House was more of a business, and therefore should be in a commercial district.

“We are not commercial, we are residential,” Greer said.

Some also said they were worried about their home’s property value with the treatment house next door.

Silas Hooker, the commission’s chair, provided letters from the Hubbard County and Helga Township assessor that indicated the home wouldn’t affect property values. That conclusion didn’t satisfy some of the speakers, however.

The meeting was emotionally-charged from the beginning, with standing audience members spilling out into the front doorway waiting for a chance to speak.

At one point, an audience member yelled an expletive at Hooker, prompting a warning that she could be escorted out of the meeting.

Restore House provided a packet with letters supporting the organization’s work.

“The Restore House offers another viable alternative to those struggling with life-controlling addiction and is increasingly recognized by our community institutions as a meaningful asset,” wrote Mike Bakke, former chief deputy at the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office. 

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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