Coulee Council on Addictions’ new building will move forward after an emotional decision Thursday by the La Crosse Common Council.
CCA executive director Cheryl Hancock had tears of joy in her eyes after the 10-3 vote, which just barely approved rezoning the property owned by Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare where the nonprofit plans to construct its new facility.
“It will send such a positive message for those seeking long-term recovery in our community, and those who may be struggling with that decision to seek long-term recovery,” Hancock said.
CCA plans to construct a 13,000-square-foot facility to be called Coulee Recovery Center on the 900 block of Ferry Street which would provide support and programming to individuals and families struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. The new building will replace CCA’s 6,000-square-foot facility at the corner of West Avenue and Jackson Street and give the group more room for programs Hancock said it sorely needs, such as alcohol assessments, peer support groups, sober social activities and early intervention programs.
Although council members all praised the nonprofit’s mission, the decision to rezone the property was controversial as neighborhood residents objected to the recovery center being built on property that they said would better serve as family residences.
“To me and to those that live in this neighborhood, this is a residential block, and I believe we should try to keep it that way,” said council member Jacqueline Marcou, who voted against the measure along with council president Martin Gaul and member Barb Janssen.
Prior to Thursday’s decision, the block, which is part of Mayo’s campus in the heart of the Washburn neighborhood, was primarily zoned for multifamily residences, such as an apartment building.
“Because of this block’s current zoning, there is amazing potential for the kind of growth and resurgence that the city has been advocating for,” Marcou said, citing the city’s quality housing shortage and commitment to neighborhood revitalization in Washburn.
Marcou argued that rezoning the property, which is adjacent to two homes built as part of the La Crosse Promise program, was a disservice to those people the city and La Crosse Promise program asked to help bring families back to troubled neighborhoods.
Gaul concurred, saying the city should honor the vision of the Promise program and avoid the mistakes of the past which led to the housing challenges the area currently faces.
“While I stand in support of both CCA and Mayo, I also stand in support of La Crosse,” Gaul said, adding that the decision will “set the tone for generations to come for that neighborhood.”
Other council members, including Phillip Ostrem and David Marshall, remained unconvinced that the neighborhood’s objections outweighed the good CCA does for the community.
“We, I think, as a society are past the point where we want to hide people away, and it’s time for us to accept people as they are, and more importantly we need to accept people for what they want to be,” Ostrem said. “There are thousands of people that CCA helps and it’s very, very important that that help continues.”
He added that if he thought any adjacent property owners would be harmed, he wouldn’t support it.
Council member Jessica Olson also spoke in favor of the rezoning, pointing to CCA’s 40-year history sitting next door to residential homes with little incident.
“My constituents who currently live next to CCA have said nothing but positive things about CCA’s presence on their block,” Olson said. “This organization has a track record going back decades of success and responsiveness and responsibility.”
As part of the rezoning, CCA agreed to provide a payment in lieu of taxes each year to the city. The PILOT is calculated based on the current property tax value of the parcels.
“Now all the work begins,” Hancock said.
That includes both finishing the plans and starting construction, and working to meet with neighbors and find a way to heal.
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“We need to keep our promises to work with the neighbors,” Hancock said.
The council also approved a resolution to exempt CCA from parking requirements, allowing the new facility to have 31 spots in its parking lot, 15 fewer than the 46 that would be required by city ordinance. Hancock said the waiver would allow the group to stay on the Ferry Street side of the alley, leaving the Hillview Urban Agricultural Center’s vermicompost facility and garden unaffected.