News

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Could celebrity-style rehab be heading to Ada County?

by

In a culture obsessed with celebrities and spoiled rich kids who do stints in rehab as often as most of us go to the grocery store, it makes sense that there would be an industry catering to the needs of the wealthy and troubled.

Now Boise might be added to the list of destinations for those looking for a posh drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility and who have the money to afford the best.

Last week, the Ada County Board of Commissioners approved a change to the zoning regulation for Rural Preservation areas within the Boise's area of impact. The changes mean that treatment facilities are now an accepted use.

The zoning change came at the urging of California resident Linda Dengler, who hopes to build Bella Vista, a 6,000- to 7,000-square-foot, ultra high-end rehabilitation facility on property she owns in the Boise Foothills. If built as planned, the facility would house 15 clients at a time, boast a 24-hour staff including a private chef. Clients could get all this for just $17,000 per month.

"The price range makes it a high-end [facility}, but in California, a moderate facility is $18,000 per month," said Dengler.

While the vote does not mean the rehabilitation facility has been given a green light, it does allow Dengler to move forward with the process of getting a conditional use permit. She expects to submit her application for the permit within the next two weeks.

While county planning staff and the planning and zoning board had recommended approval for the zoning change, it wasn't without its detractors. The final County Commission vote was 2-1, with Commissioner Paul Woods voting against the change. Woods was not available to comment by press time.

In addition to opposition from several residents who live near the proposed site, the city of Boise sent a letter to the commission recommending denial of the zoning change.

"Clearly, a project of this source has some potential benefit for the community," said Michael Zuzel, spokesperson for Mayor Dave Bieter. "But it's still an urban use and needs urban services."

This stance by the city has left Dengler feeling a bit betrayed.

Before asking for the zoning change, Dengler said she spoke to the Ada County Fire District, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Idaho Department of Health, as well as other state, county and city officials to learn what she would need to do to make the facility fall in line with regulations.

"We've done all that before we got this far to make sure we fit," she said. "Everything was apparently OK until the city shocked us at the last minute.

She said those discussions came after she sold a large portion of her land to the city to serve as park land. Dengler owned two 40-acre plots in the Foothills off Cartwright Road, both in Rural Preservation zoning. She kept two 5-acre building sites. The remaining land bordering Dengler's property is owned by the Bureau of Land Management.

While Dengler believes the relative isolation of her property is a boon to the facility, it's that very remoteness that is a concern for the city. Among the list of issues is the time it would take for fire and EMS to reach the site.

"The use is one that requires a range of urban services such as the central water and sewer, fire protection and a transportation system capable of addressing the increased capacity that a use such as this would create," reads the letter presented to the Boise City Council by the city planning and development staff.

The city currently allows rehabilitation centers within the city limits without a conditional use permit, although the covenants regulating individual neighborhoods within the city often ban the facilities.

The City Council voted 4-2 in support of recommending denial for the zoning change. Council members Maryann Jordan and Jim Tibbs voted against the recommendation.

Dengler said she's taken the city's concerns into consideration, including water storage on site, either a drinking water-quality well or having water service brought to the property, and installing a large-scale septic system.

Additionally, she said patients would not be allowed to have personal vehicles on-site and would not be allowed to leave.

"It's not that they have free roam," Dengler said.

While their movements may be restricted, patients at Bella Vista won't suffer. In addition to meals cooked by a live-in chef and sessions with exercise and nutritional therapists, patients would be housed two to a room and be able to take in 360-degree views of Boise and the Foothills.

"It gives the clients their privacy," she said. "The idea is to help them get healthy."

While the house will stand on a hilltop above the city, Dengler said she is designing the one-story Mediterranean-style house to fit in with the landscape. She admitted the position of the red tile-roofed house on the hill may make it visible.

"We're making it as beautiful and as blended-in as possible," Dengler said. "It's going to look like whatever some rich person, if they owned this land, would build."

Her market research and census surveys show that there are more than 18,000 people in the state that are battling drug and/or alcohol problems. Of those, she said roughly 6,000 could afford a facility like Bella Vista.

Idaho has seven adult and four adolescent residential treatment facilities operating in the state, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. None of these are in Ada County. One is located in Ontario, Ore.

"It's desperate," Dengler said. "We don't have facilities of that nature."

Not everyone agrees the situation is that dire. Cindy Jones, who works at the Walker Center, a 48-bed residential rehabilitation facility in Gooding, said the program still has room for new patients. With a price tag of $8,800 for a 28-day program, Jones said many of the facility's clients come from the Boise area.

Ted Burgess, manager of the Addiction Recovery Center at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, said he sees a limited demand for high end treatment in the Boise area.

Dengler plans to market the facility across the Northwest, focusing on the wealthy who want both privacy and comfort.

She is still in the process of sorting out the financing for the project. Dengler said she has several investors already on line, but the rise in mortgage rates has forced her to look for additional investors.

"It's a very profitable business," she said.

If Dengler does get a conditional use permit, she estimates that it would take roughly six to eight months to build the facility. The facility would still have to go through a licensing process with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare before it could open to clients.

While Dengler has high hopes for Bella Vista, she said there's always plan B. "If doesn't work, I can sell it as a house."