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MATTOON -- During a public hearing Tuesday night, the Mattoon Planning Commission heard nearly three hours of testimony and questions regarding a proposal for a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation facility to open in a former nursing home.

The hearing was for Adult & Teen Challenge Illinois' petition for a special use permit to open this proposed Christian faith-based, residential facility in the Douglas Nursing & Rehabilitation Center building at 3516 Powell Lane, along west DeWitt Avenue. More than 150 people attended this hearing in Burgess-Osborne Auditorium.

At the end of the meeting, all commission members present voted to continue the hearing for 60 days to allow the petitioner to come up with more documentation and a business plan.

Adult & Teen Challenge Illinois CEO Paul Hinzman emphasized during his testimony that the proposed facility would work with men who have already gone through withdrawal and who have voluntarily committed to taking part in the entire 14-month program. He said that the proposed facility could eventually serve up to 60 men, mainly from Central Illinois.

Hinzman talked about the approximately 60-year history of the national Teen Challenge organization and shared testimonials from local officials and state legislators about the work of Teen Challenge in other areas of Illinois. His opening testimony was followed by testimony from Travis Spencer, lead pastor of The Fields Church in Mattoon.

"We are proud to support them," Spencer said, adding that his church has worked with Teen Challenge for many years. He said Teen Challenge has already helped men from the Mattoon area who are suffering from addiction and the new facility could help even more.

Spencer said if he had any doubt about having a Teen Challenge facility in Mattoon, he would not support the proposed site. He added that, "I am not filled with fear at all. I am filled with hope and excitement."

After the testimony and questions concluded, commission members indicated that they wanted to get more information on the proposed plans for the building and the program there before making a recommendation to the Mattoon City Council for final approval.

"You application has a lot of holes in it. We want to see a complete application, not a partial application with a lot of promises in it," said commission member Dean Willaredt.

Hinzman said Adult & Teen Challenge Illinois, which is based in Carlinville, is committed to doing what the city requires for submitting a complete petition and for complying with building code and zoning regulations for the building.

The former nursing home building is owned by Mattoon-based Wingman Ministries, which has offered the building for use by Adult & Teen Challenge Illinois.

Earlier in the hearing, commission member Janet Grove said she recused herself from Tuesday's meeting so that she could speak about the fears that she and other neighbors have regarding the proposed addiction rehab facility. Grove said she worries that some of the facility's clients from out of the area may drop out of the program and stay in Mattoon.

Grove asked the commission to postpone its vote to give neighbors more time to review Adult & Teen Challenge Illinois' petition and to provide evidence about how this facility could lower their property values. She also asked for more time for neighbors to meet with the petitioner to come up with conditions that might make the facility more acceptable.

Hinzman responded later in the hearing that he would be willing to meet with Grove as many times as needed to help address her concerns. He said no one should feel unsafe in their homes. During his opening testimony, Hinzman noted that he is a father, husband, youth football coach and part-time police officer.

"I am very community minded and Teen Challenge Illinois is a very community minded organization. We are here to serve," Hinzman said.

He added that Teen Challenge wants its proposed facility to help treat the area's drug addiction problems, which have caused about 100 overdose deaths in Coles County and the surrounding area during the last five years, he said.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @RobStroud

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