Evergreen community divided on future of substance abuse center inside former church

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EVERGREEN, Colo. -- Hundreds of people filled a standing-room only meeting at a former Evergreen church Tuesday night, upset over a potential zoning change being considered for a substance abuse program inside.

Spero Recovery purchased the former church earlier this year with plans to help people with substance abuse problems recover.

Currently, those clients are not allowed to live inside the church. Spero is requesting a zoning change that would allow up to 54 people to live on the property.

“Right now, we’re limited on what we can do by zoning. We have a house next door where we can put said people,” said Butch Lewis, the program's executive director. “So what we’re looking at doing, is adjusting our zoning that will allow us to no longer have to look for houses out in the community, and do essentially a sober living environment.”

Lewis, a veteran who lost two siblings to substance abuse, has promised to help veterans with significant scholarships for the program.

Tuesday night, many said they believe Lewis is using that as a peg to get a zoning change.

Lewis took offense, openly yelling at audience members before a moderator could intervene.

It was one of a few intense moments at the meeting, where community members also expressed concerns over security, commercialization of the property and with having people recovering from substance abuse within just a few thousand feet of a school.

“What made you think this would be a good location?” asked one woman.

“One of the things we keep fighting is that people want to bring commercial activity into our residential areas” said another.

Lewis says people with violent felony convictions and sex offenders are not allowed to take part in the program.

Clients also must volunteer to be there and show a strong desire to break addiction.

Jefferson County has not yet scheduled a vote on the zoning change.

Lewis says if the request is denied, he may purchase additional homes in Evergreen for clients to sleep at while in the program at the former church.

“If we don’t get the zoning change, we’re going to continue operating the exact same way we’re operating now," he said.

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