Facing growing opposition from neighbors and dwindling support from the Orono City Council, the Emily Program has decided not to open an eating disorder clinic in a former private school.

The decision ends months of controversy about adding a 10-bed medical facility to the community, which neighbors and a majority of City Council members have questioned.

Dirk Miller, executive director of the Emily Program, said the group decided it did not want to wait until the council finished debating the issue. The program plans to look elsewhere for a clinic site.

"We answered every reasonable question and concern raised by city councilors and opponents," Miller said Wednesday. "The feeling was let's move forward."

The council had tabled or delayed the matter several times and was scheduled to take it up again Monday.

"We were not confident that the next City Council meeting was going to give us different results," said Jillian Croll, the Emily Program's director of education, research and program development.

Orono Mayor Jim White issued a statement late Wednesday saying the issue has been taken off the council agenda.

"Now that Dr. Miller has decided to move on, we will too," White said. "We wish him and his program all the best. Notwithstanding some of the comments in the media, the Emily Program was never the issue for our City Council."

The program wanted to buy the historic Hill School, a small private school property, and renovate it into an eating disorder treatment center.

Neighbors, including Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel, who lives across the street from the proposed site, strongly objected. They cited traffic, the small lot size, zoning issues and the granting of a permanent permit for a medical facility that would stay with the property.

That last concern seemed to hit home last week, when the council debated the matter.

Opponents said state law would make it difficult to deny another medical facility-such as a rehab center for drug or sex offenders-from moving into the school site if the Emily Program closed or left.

The council decided not to grant the conditional use permit, but did say it would consider granting an interim use permit if an agreement could be reached with the program.

Emily Program has about 2,500 clients at five locations around the state.

Miller said Wednesday that he has been contacted recently by several cities about possible locations. One was in Chaska, where the Emily Program had a facility until this month.

Miller said he held no ill feelings toward Orono or its elected officials. "We think we have more supporters than opponents in Orono," he said.

TCF Financial CEO Bill Cooper, who owns the school property, said he will fill the vacant building at some point. He said he was not surprised at the decision by Miller to withdraw the facility's application.

"I'm disappointed by the council and the community's reaction," Cooper said. "It was kind of a not-in-my-neighborhood kind of thing."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280