Board grants variance for a shared housing facility for women recovering from substance abuse

Photo provided An artist’s rendition of what the Bridge to Dove facility will look like at the northwest corner of the intersection of Pavilion Drive and Marr Road in Columbus.

The Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously granted use variance approval to allow for a shared housing facility for women recovering from substance abuse.

The 6,500 square-foot facility would be on 1.38 acres on the northwest corner of the intersection of Pavilion Drive and Marr Road in Columbus, located in an area zoned Commercial: Office (CO).

Mark Teike, chairman of the board for the applicant, Bridge to Dove, and owner of the subject property, David Force of Force Holdings LLC, spoke to the board about the facility, which would house up to 16 women, they said.

Bridge to Dove has a similar recovery house in Indianapolis with 38-beds that has operated for more than two decades, Teike said. They also have a satellite location in Jasper.

“The beauty of Dove, not only is that women can stay there for two years, but that they don’t have to pay to come to be there,” Teike said. “This is more than just a halfway house, they receive treatment there.”

Organizers said 71 percent of women who enter Dove Recovery successfully complete the program and 85 percent “are reunited with their families, which is very, very high,” according to Teike.

In 2023, state officials announced they would make an additional $25 million of Indiana’s share of nationwide opioid settlement money available to local governments through a one-time matching grant. Bartholomew County received $718,280 of that, split between three organizations planning projects that officials said would significantly expand substance abuse recovery housing in Bartholomew County.

Bridge to Dove was earmarked for $324,000 to set up a level-four recovery home for women, The Republic reported at the time.

Level-four facilities provide the highest level of support to people who are going through recovery and offer, among other things, medical care and employ licensed clinical social workers. Higher-level homes provide more ongoing support for residences than lower-level homes, officials said. Columbus is already home to level-one, two and three facilities, but this would be the first level-four, Teike said, adding that level-four facilities have the highest level of supervision and oversight by staff.

Bridge to Dove had looked at several properties that were undeveloped or existing buildings that might be converted into a recovery house, but found none of them worked well, Force told the board.

Bridge to Dove wanted a place that was within easy walking distance to shopping opportunities, had access to bus lines and wasn’t in close proximity to single-family homes, according to Force.

“My brother and I have looked at this piece of property for a number of different uses, and it always ends up sort of being a bit of a remnant because it’s rather long and narrow, and difficult to develop commercially,” Force said.

However, the property did seem to be suited for what Bridge to Dove was looking for, Force told the board.

“It is a more much intensive thing, it’s much more aimed at not just getting you away from the chemical issue, but dealing with the life choices that go with that,” Force said of Bridge to Dove and their recovery program. “And without that component, that’s why the recidivism rate for those kinds of programs is usually so poor, and frankly, why their’s is that good.”

Teike said he had conversations with Mayor Mary Ferdon about concerns expressed by potential neighbors about the recovery home coming to their area.

“Based upon my conversation with her, I sat down with then Columbus Police Chief (Mike) Richardson and shared with him the location to make sure that he was comfortable with that as a location as it relates to neighbors and he gave it a thumbs up and was very positive about that.”

Business & Industrial Federal Credit Union, located north of the proposed location for the recovery home, wrote in a letter to planning staff that they objected to the variance request because they believed it does not “meet the original zoning requirements that were required when we made our original substantial financial investment for our location.” The letter, signed by CEO and President Aaron Wilp, also said their “most pressing concern is the security risks associated with any housing unit with 24 hour residents,” saying “the location for the proposed building would have a direct line of sight, providing someone with the ability to watch the day-to-day operations of a financial institution and its members.”

Force pointed out the property is designed to be as discreet as possible, “sits significantly back from Marr Road” and is “designed so that any exterior is shielded by the building itself.”

“They want to be there because they want to be beyond the situation that they’re in. They’re not there to party,” Force said. “… It’s not something that is going to create a great deal of havoc or disruption in the neighborhood, it’s rather low-key and I’ve had the opportunity to visit Dove facilities and it’s remarkably quiet and gracious.”

“I can appreciate the concern,” Teike said. “I just know from the track record that Dove has had in Indianapolis, and also the track record they’ve had in Jasper — those have not become issues.”