The Boulder County Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to recommend turning the Alps Boulder Canyon Inn into a residential facility for teens with mild to moderate mental health symptoms.
Sandstone Care, which will operate the facility if approved by Boulder County commissioners, has mental health treatment centers for adolescents and young adults in four states. Michael Hunter, the company’s CEO, told the hearing that the facility will fill a treatment gap in the county by creating an option for patients who need more than outpatient care but don’t. to be hospitalized.
“This particular level of care is…is incredibly needed, more than it probably ever was,” Hunter told a public hearing. “Although there are many resources in many cases for acute psychiatric care or outpatient services, there is not much that meets the need in the middle.”
If the project is approved, it would amend a previous special use permit for the Alps Inn property to operate as a bed and breakfast. A special use review is required for projects that could affect services, neighborhoods or the environment to a greater extent than regular building permits allow.
After reviewing the Alps Inn proposal, staff members found that it met most of the criteria for special purpose projects, but that changes would be needed to meet some of the other conditions. For example, accessible parking should be added to the property, trash cans should be bear proof, and a plan should be made to eradicate harmful weeds from the property. The Planning Commission’s recommendation to proceed with the project is subject to these conditions being met.
The inn, which is two miles west of Boulder in Boulder Canyon, was built in 1870 but for 30 years has operated as a bed and breakfast with 12 rooms and extensive grounds that cover 12.5 acres. John Vanderhart and his wife, Jannine, have owned and managed the property since the 1990s, but John Vanderhart told the hearing that “the economic realities of running an inn have changed” and that he was not more financially possible to continue running the hotel.
If converted to a group home, the hostel will primarily serve teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 with conditions such as anxiety and depression, Hunter told the hearing. He stressed that the facility would not be for patients with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, and that patients would enter the program voluntarily, so they would not be likely to run away.
Several residents of homes near the hostel spoke at the hearing to ask questions and express concerns about whether the project could lead to further safety issues in the neighborhood.
“There are four houses with four families, including two babies, just above this facility,” said Glenn Stevens, one of the residents. “We are concerned about people wandering off or climbing onto our properties.”
Stevens then asked what qualifications the staff would have and what type of insurance the establishment would carry to “keep neighbors safe”.
Another resident, William Jensen, said his wife worked at a mental health facility and that “clients running away, running away, are pretty much a daily occurrence” at that facility.
Hunter said he and Sandstone were “very open and receptive” to engaging with the community about the project.
“I think if I put myself in the shoes of someone who had an open street program like this, I would have a lot of questions,” Hunter said during the hearing. “And I would be nervous. And so I think fear or worry is completely normal.
County commissioners will make the final decision on whether to approve the project, according to county planning spokesman Rick Hackett. No date has been set for the vote, but Hackett said it will likely be early 2023.
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