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Planners advance St. Jude’s healing center

St. Jude’s Ranch for Children in Boulder City is one step closer to having a new healing center for victims of sex trafficking after planning commissioners recommended approval of an amendment to the nonprofit’s master plan.

According to a staff report given at the Dec. 18 meeting, the proposed center encompasses 10 undeveloped acres of the ranch’s 38.65-acre property. It will have a maximum of 60 residents, six homes, an administrative and emergency shelter building and a multipurpose building that will include a school. It will be gated off from the rest of the campus and serve those 10-18 years old.

“Currently there are no other specialized programs,” said CEO Christina Vela. “What we recognized in conversation with our community leaders is that currently a lot of girls remain unnecessarily in the juvenile detention facility. The judge and all of the family service providers would like to put these children in a home environment and, at times, we recognize that we need enhanced victim service.”

Vela said they want to separate the center because they think the children there should be in a more controlled environment to readjust to life outside of sex trafficking. She also said most of the victims will likely have been out of the traditional school setting for a while and are expected to remain in the program for about 12 months.

According to the 1997 master site plan, the 10-acre portion of the property was originally intended for various recreational uses including a gym or field house, a baseball diamond and a track.

“What you’re doing for the community is amazing,” said Planning Commissioner Nate Lasoff.

“Thank you for coming here. … You guys are doing a nice job,” said Paul Matuska.

Chairman Fritz McDonald said this center was an opportunity for Boulder City to serve the entire state.

“Everything is in good order, and what they’re laying out on the master plan is not extremely deviating from their existence of the buildings there. … I think this is a unique opportunity for Boulder City to be a good neighbor to the rest of Southern Nevada and, in fact, even up into Northern Nevada,” he said. “It’s something that’s needed, and I think we should be proud as Boulder City and wear this with a badge of honor.”

During the meeting a concern was raised about the center’s proximity to a subdivision on Blue Lake Drive.

“I just wanted to put it on record that our entire HOA (homeowners association), which consists of 20 homes, is against approval of this matter,” said Marian Vince, president of the Blue Lake Homeowners Association. “Our disagreement is the location of the facility, not necessarily the facility itself. It’s basically just on the other side of our wall.”

Vince said the wall is owned by St. Jude’s, but the homeowners call it “their wall.”

“I’ve been a big part of this community, and St. Jude’s has always been here,” she added. “I know they’ve been here since ’67, and I’ve done a lot of work with St. Jude’s. … It’s just the facility they’re proposing now and the location of that.”

McDonald said the requirement with the current R1-8 zoning is that residences only have to be 15 feet apart, and, with easements, St. Jude’s was planning for them to be farther apart.

“So saying they’re going to be 150 to 200 feet off the wall, and that they’ve agreed to keep everything at single story, sounds pretty neighborly to me,” he said.

The information packet for the project included a statement from Boulder City Police Chief Tim Shea saying that he did not think this center would increase the need for law enforcement services there.

The commissioners’ recommendation also included the staff’s findings and conditions as well as requiring the setbacks submitted in the plans.

This recommendation will be presented to City Council at the Jan. 14 meeting.

According to the meeting packet, St. Jude’s purchased the property in 1967 and the land sales agreement requires the Planning Commission and city to review plans for the undeveloped portions of the property.

Vela said they are thankful for the recommendation and plan to open the healing center in 2021. She said the ranch has partnered with LGA Architecture to move the master plan forward.

“The charity will pursue all avenues for funding and has already received a $4 million matching grant commitment from a strong community advocate and supporter, The Engelstad Foundation, which will serve as a major gift to cap the $15 million capital campaign,” Vela added.

Contact reporter Celia Shortt Goodyear at cgoodyear@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9401. Follow her on Twitter @csgoodyear.

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