City Council approves rezoning of Johnson County Access Center

The Johnson County Access Center will provide many services to people suffering with substance abuse as well as behavioral health issues.

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Katina Zentz

A "for sale" sign is seen at the intersections of North Gilbert St. and Southgate Avenue on Thursday, December 13, 2018. The new Iowa City Diversion Center will be built on this property and will allow for those with mental illnesses to receive emergency care.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

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The Iowa City City Council approved a request to rezone the Johnson County Access Center on Dec. 4.

The county requested a rezoning for the center in August, said Anne Russett, the senior Planner in the Urban Planning Department. The county wanted the Access Center to be rezoned from an intensive commercial to a neighborhood public zone, she said.

“Public uses are generally allowed anywhere in the city, because they provide services everyone may need,” Russett said.

The Access Center will be built at the intersection of Gilbert Street and Southgate Avenue. Although the center doesn’t have an official name yet, it is being referred to as the county Access Center.

The rezoning of the center was required, project manager Matthew Miller said. The Crisis Center falls into the same category of zoning as police and fire stations and therefore shouldn’t be zoned as intensive commercial, he said.

The center will provide core services, such as crisis observation, crisis stabilization, substance-abuse treatment/detoxification, and a sobering unit. In a building next to the center, the low-barrier winter shelter will be housed, Miller said.

In the Access Center information documents given to the Iowa City Planning & Zoning Commission, it details the length of time each service is administered, as well as describes what each of the services are. The information documents also says the center will provide medical first-aid services upon the patient’s arrival.

“It really puts everything all under one roof. If you need to go through detox before starting mental-health services, you go to one place,” Miller said. “With different treatment services in one place, it will make it easier to tie the treatment programs together.”

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The access center will allow law enforcement to have a third option other than taking someone to jail or the emergency room. The center functions as a jail and emergency-room diversion program, Miller said.

The center will allow a medical approach to be taken to behavioral-health issues instead of criminalizing the situation, Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said. Law-enforcement officers have been trained to handle situations involving mental-health and substance-abuse issues, which is not their specialty, he said.

“They need to be observed by someone who knows what’s going on, and there needs to be some place to house these people temporarily,” Sullivan said. “Some people may only be there for an hour before being picked up; some people may be there three days. The intent is not that someone will live there.”

The county is also making a permanent place for the low-barrier winter shelter, Miller said. The shelter will be next door to the Access Center because people staying there may need some of the services provided by the center.

The new shelter building will also function for other uses, such as large-group trainings or community events, Miller said.

“The actual start/finish is contingent upon a lot of moving parts,” Miller said in an email to The Daily Iowan. “But we are estimating construction to begin next fall [approximately September 2019], and assuming a 12-month construction period, opening in September 2020.”

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