Plans for upscale Warren County drug treatment center on old camp land opposed

Staff photo by Nick Graham

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Staff photo by Nick Graham

Plans to turn a former Warren County camp property into an upscale, in-patient drug and alcohol treatment facility are facing local opposition.

A group headed by principals from Columbus and Illinois is seeking a conditional-use permit for the 120 acres — previously home to the Kings Domain Summer Camp. But opponents are seeking to be heard next week during a virtual public meeting that is being held to discuss the project.

For decades the camp operated at the site east of the Little Miami River and Morgan’s Canoe Livery and across from the Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve and Salvation Army Camp Swoneky in Oregonia, Washinton Twp., Warren County.

Fire circles at Kings Domain and Swoneky were so close campers would have joint singing contests, said Bill Duning, a lawyer representing opponents.

“What is the right thing to do with these two properties that share such common property?” asked Duning, former Lebanon law director and longtime real estate lawyer.

The Cedar Oaks Care Center is seeking rezoning of the property as well as a permit to operate under the county’s Adult Group Homes and Institutional Care Facilities classification at 5778 Ohio 350, in Washington Township.

A backer of the proposal - Dr. Michael Gambla, a Columbus-area physician — said he and Ted Paarlberg, a hospital executive in Hinsdale, Ill., would not be commenting on the project until after Tuesday’s hearing.

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The application indicates development would occur over four to five years and involve 24 to 90 residents undergoing individualized care and learning life skills “to reenter their day-to-day lives without the need of drugs or alcohol.”

Initially fewer than 50 staff and residents would live there, according to the application.

The residents would stay in two new one-story dorms, up to 22 residents in each one, and four one-story cottages for four to six residents.

The existing dining hall, administration building, cottages and cabins would be conserved.

The application also indicates the project would “establish a balance between development and growth management, maintaining the desired community behavior.”

“The proposed use intends to preserve the environment far into the future,” according to the application. “There is a growing need in the Warren County area for programs and uses such as this.”

The center would offer improvements on traffic and noise, compared to the camp, according to the application.

“With an adult population focusing on healing, rest and self reflection, noise levels will be virtually undetectable and substantially lower than it would have been with the largely outdoor activities of 100 or more youth.”

Records show Gambla and Paarlsberg is seeking support from Ohio’s historical society and drug treatment officials.

RELATED: State grant sought to buy camp property to expand Native American site, nature preserve

Ohio History Connection — the state’s historical society — operates Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve next door to the land.

In a Feb. 7 email to Paarlberg, Jennifer Aulltman, World Heritage director for Ohio History Connection, said “It was a real pleasure meeting you and hearing about your vision for the King’s Domain property. I think that a place of recovery and healing is just about the best use I could imagine for that beautiful place.”

“The opportunities ahead of us to collaborate are really exciting - thanks for your willingness to consider how we might best work together. I have started conversations here to see what might be involved in a land swap since the access easement is on state land. Stay tuned!,” Aultman added in an email to to Paarlberg and Jack Blosser, who runs Fort Ancient.”

The day before Aultman’s email, Denise Cole, program administrator for the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, emailed Gambla a message to use in getting approval in Warren County.

“Upon submission of a complete and compliant application including a desk review of your policies and procedures, you will be eligible to receive an interim certification,” Cole said in the Feb. 6 email. “Upon completion of an on-site survey and completion of a corrective action plan, if indicated, you will be eligible for full certification.”

MORE: Warren County approves permit for wedding center despite resident opposition

According to records, Cedar Oaks is to proposing to provide American Society of Addiction Medicine levels of care for general addiction treatment services, residential and withdrawal management substance abuse disorder. It also is to provide an outpatient opioid treatment program, partial hospitalization services, clinically managed low intensity, high intensity, population-specific and high-intensity residential services and medically monitored intensive outpatient services, as well as clinically managed residential withdrawal management.

Tobacco abuse programs are also planned.

Duning said there was a “disconnect” between the state and locals over the project. Local residents have questions about the “substance abuse treatment business” and how the county would monitor the “high-dollar people” undergoing treatment there.

“What exactly is being planned?” he asked. “Who’s going to be there?”

Duning indicated he was representing neighbors including the Salvation Army Camp Swoneky, but Julie Budden, a Divisional Director of Development for the Salvation Army indicated it was unready to comment on the project.

“The Salvation Army does not wish to speculate on a proposed development that has not yet been approved by the Warren County Building and Zoning commission and whose status remains uncertain. We remain deeply committed to continuing to serve the children and adults whose lives are transformed by the programs we run at Camp SWONEKY, and have done so since 1912,” Budden said via email.

According to county records, in September 2018, after the Kings Domain camp defaulted on a loan, the property was sold out of foreclosure for $1.2 million to a lien holder, SMC DOXA. Taxes due in February 2020 have not been paid. According to county records, $19,153.65 in taxes and penalties is owed.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Warren County Board of Zoning Appeals is to open a public hearing to review the site plan and conditional use permit application at the county administration building, 406 Justice Dr. in Lebanon.

Due to coronavirus concerns, participants are encouraged to join remotely. Accommodations are to be made for those unable to.

MORE: The Path Forward: Addiction Crisis


Warren County Board of Zoning Appeals Meeting

Tuesday, May 12, 6:30 - 9:30 p.m.

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