Holistic healing center's greenhouse doesn't meet city requirements

Lifeline Wellness Center issued cease-and-desist letter

Robert Connelly The Register-Mail
A greenhouse outside the Lifeline Wellness Center in Knoxville is pictured on Tuesday. The center has been served a cease and desist letter, and possibly a court order soon, due to having built a greenhouse attached to its facility without city approval. LEWIS MARIEN/The Register-Mail

KNOXVILLE — A wellness organization began building a greenhouse for its facility without city approval, leading to a cease-and-desist letter.

Knoxville City Council during its meeting Monday, discussed the greenhouse that the Lifeline Wellness Center has partially built onto its 407 N. Hebard St. facility.

That work was stopped after that notice.

"It seems that from what I got it was going to get very complicated about zoning and things like (that)," said Ramon Irizarry, program director at Lifeline.

"I don't think we're going to do anything with this. It's just going to stay (like) this and then probably see what they say. If not, just break it apart."

The center occupies what was formerly the Good Samaritan Nursing Home, an intermediate care facility, that closed in April 2012 due to staff not complying with Illinois Department of Public Health procedures, according to Register-Mail archives.

"When I first learned about it, the structure was already attached to the building," said Knoxville Police Chief Ron Poyner.

"They're in violation," said Rob McCoy, Knoxville City Attorney.

According to city officials at Monday night's council meeting, the organization asked for a building permit and was denied. Then the group was invited to attend a city planning commission meeting, which it did not attend, and that city body also denied the project.

The group was then invited to a city council meeting, where aldermen also denied the project based on the planning commission's denial, but Lifeline began to build the greenhouse regardless.

"I didn't know about" the letters, Irizarry said. He said if letters about zoning and city issues were sent to Peter Carstens, who runs the center with Irizarry, then Irizarry would not have seen those.

The current building is zoned R-2, meaning that it's for residential multi-family structures. "There is no defined use or special use that meets what they do very well because they're an unusual organization," McCoy said.

He listed that they identify as a religious organization, teach eating principles and have people stay at their facility by giving donations.

"All of which are special uses for R-2, but you have to get permission to have the special use" permit and go through the process, McCoy said.

He further said greenhouses are currently allowed in the city in rural agriculture zoned areas or commercial industrial manufacturing zones.

"I think we need to investigate the living conditions there because the reason that new wing never opened is because it didn't meet standard," said Alderman Toby Myers, Ward 3.

"It has had issues in the past with state agencies, to my understanding," said Knoxville Mayor Pro-Tem Dennis Maurer. "We know it has issues. We need to just kind of get this fixed to this point and then move on" from there.

Irizarry said they have a few people stay at the facility, some for three days at a time while others might stay for 15 days. That is to learn to eat better nutrition as it is a holistic healing facility.

A garden encompasses the backyard of the facility with vegetables such as green beans, potatoes and peppers, among other plants.

The current garden is "probably 3/4 of an acre. Now the structure we want to build we want to build on this site here" to enclose that whole area, he said.

The current "temporary greenhouse" is built off of a laundry room and includes a row or two of the existing garden.

"There's a place in Chillicothe that has a big garden and wants to do a community garden ... if the city doesn't like it, we'll just go over there and do it and help the community there," Irizarry said.

Robert Connelly: (309) 343-7181, ext. 266; rconnelly@register-mail.com; @RConnelly