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County Planning Commission votes to recommend converting Alps Boulder Canyon Inn to mental health facility

Daily Camera - 11/16/2022

Nov. 17—The Boulder County Planning Commission unanimously voted Wednesday afternoon to recommend turning the Alps Boulder Canyon Inn into a residential facility for adolescents with mild to moderate mental health symptoms.

Sandstone Care, which will operate the facility if it's approved by Boulder County commissioners, owns mental health treatment centers for teens and young adults in four states. Michael Hunter, the company's CEO, said at the hearing that the facility would fill a treatment gap in the county by creating an option for patients who need more than outpatient care but don't need to be hospitalized.

"This particular level of care is ... is incredibly necessary, more so than it's probably ever been," Hunter said at a public hearing. "While there are lots of resources in many cases for acute psychiatric care or outpatient services, there's not much that meets the need in the middle."

If the project is approved, it would modify a previous special use approval for the Alps Inn property to be run as a bed and breakfast. Special use review is required for projects that could affect services, neighborhoods or the environment to a greater degree than regular building permits allow.

After staff members reviewed the Alps Inn proposal, they found it met most of the criteria for special use projects but that changes would be necessary to meet some of the other conditions. For example, accessible parking would need to be added to the property, waste receptacles would need to be bear-proofed, and a plan would need to be made to eradicate noxious weeds from the grounds. The Planning Commission's recommendation to advance the project is contingent on these conditions being met.

The inn, which lies two miles west of Boulder in Boulder Canyon, was built in 1870, but for the past 30 years, it's been operating as a bed and breakfast with 12 bedrooms and a sprawling grounds that covers 12.5 acres. John Vanderhart and his wife, Jannine, have owned and managed the property since the 1990s, but John Vanderhart said at the hearing that "the economic realities of running an inn have changed" and it was no longer financially feasible to continue running the hotel.

If it's converted into a group home, the inn will primarily serve adolescents ages 13-17 with illnesses such as anxiety and depression, Hunter said during the hearing. He emphasized that the facility would not be intended for patients with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, and that patients would enter the program voluntarily, so they wouldn't be likely to abscond.

Several residents of homes close to the inn spoke at the hearing to ask questions and voice concerns about whether the project could bring new safety issues to the neighborhood.

"There are four homes with four families, including two infants, immediately above this facility," said Glenn Stevens, one of the residents. "We are concerned about people wandering off or coming up to our properties."

Stevens went on to ask what qualifications staff would have and what type of insurance the facility would pursue to "guarantee the safety of neighbors."

Another resident, William Jensen, said his wife worked at a mental health facility and that "clients running away, absconding, is pretty much a daily occurrence" at that facility.

Hunter said he and Sandstone were "very open and receptive" to engaging in dialogue with the community about the project.

"I think, if I were putting myself in the shoes of somebody who had a program opening up down the street like this, I would have a lot of questions," Hunter said at the hearing. "And I would be nervous. And so I think that fear or concern is very normal."

The county commissioners will make the final determination on whether to approve the project, according to County Planning spokesman Rick Hackett. A date has not been set for the vote, but Hackett said it will likely be in early 2023.


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