Businesses riled at plans to turn Hilton Head hotel into rehab center

tbarton@islandpacket.comDecember 5, 2013 

Plans to turn The Main Street Inn & Spa, a boutique hotel on Hilton Head Island, into an inpatient treatment center for patients suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and mental health disorders are upsetting nearby business owners.

Town Council's Planning and Development Standards Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend to the full council that the property be rezoned to allow the change.

"I respect their fears, but I don't believe there's much substance behind them," committee member Bill Harkins said of concerns the rehab center would attract drug dealers and the mentally disturbed.

"This fills an unmet need in the area for behavioral health services ... and adds another dimension to our health care services on the island, and provides good-paying jobs," Harkins said.

The inn's owner wants to sell the 33-room property after failed efforts to expand, and has a buyer who wants to use it as a residential treatment center, island attorney Walter Nester of the McNair Law Firm said.

The rezoning would allow for clinical services, including diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for drug and alcohol dependency and mental health needs of nonviolent patients -- such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder -- and would include overnight lodging, according to Nester and town staff.

The facility could not treat people serving jail sentences, those who have been recently paroled or otherwise released from prison, or who require court-ordered therapy, senior town planner Jayme Lopko said.

Lopko said the treatment center would be a viable business opportunity not dissimilar to nearby assisted living facilities and offices along Main Street that provide medical, dental and psychiatric care.

Nester said the buyer, Behavioral Health Solutions, operates several facilities across the U.S. that treat addictions and psychological disorders, including licensed residential rehab centers in California, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon.

"This is for individuals whose family and friends have come to them and said, 'You have a problem, and you need some inpatient therapy to help you with your problem,' " Nester said. "The proposed operator will not allow someone to be admitted unless they want to be admitted. ... You will not have a police van and (officers) exiting someone in handcuffs. There won't be bars on the windows or change in the look of the building."

Owners and managers of neighboring shops and restaurants, however, worry they'll lose business they get from the inn's guests and argue such a treatment center is inappropriate for the commercial area.

"It takes away visitors who are spending money to eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores," Brian Bambeck, owner and operator of Mangiamo restaurant, said Thursday. "... I didn't mortgage my life away to build a business next to a mental hospital."

SERG Restaurant Group, Quality Inn & Suites and Pyramids gift store voiced similar concerns at a Nov. 20 Planning Commission meeting. The commission also endorsed the rezoning.

Nester argues the rezoning will be "a wash or a net positive" for the area. He says family and friends would stay at nearby hotels and continue to eat and shop at Main Street businesses while loved ones receive treatment. He also says the area could see increased business from the medical professionals who would work at the center, and hotel staff would still be needed to provide housekeeping.

Bambeck disagrees.

"Family members and friends will drive up, drop off loved ones and drive away," he said. "They're not there to hang out, shop and visit. They're not coming here to relax and have a party."

Town Council is expected to take up the issue Dec. 17.


Attorney explains zoning variance for The Main Street Inn & Spa (1:15)

Hilton Head Town Councilman Bill Harkins addresses the need for the applicant to address the benefits a drug and alcohol rehab and mental health clinic in the Lowcountry. Island attorney Walter Nester of the McNair Law Firm who is representing The Main Street Inn & Spa owner, discusses the clientele for the mental health clinic. On Dec. 5, 2013 the Town Council's Planning and Development Standards Committee voted unanimously to recommend the property be rezoned to allow the clinic.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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