Sheriff: Town should have asked sooner about rehab center

tbarton@islandpacket.comFebruary 3, 2014 

The entrance to the former Main Street Inn & Spa on Hilton Head Island.

STAFF PHOTO

The Town of Hilton Head Island could have been better informed about plans to turn a boutique hotel into a treatment center for addiction and depression had it contacted law enforcement sooner, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said Monday.

The proposed rezoning of the Main Street Inn & Spa has drawn opposition from some nearby residents and businesses that worry the inpatient facility would attract rampant drug use and crime, a claim largely dispelled by police departments in communities where Sunspire Health operates similar facilities.

"I think the big issue here is genuine concern by those who live in the area that the town did not completely vet the rezoning request, based on the history of Sunspire Health's operations in other communities, and whether placing a rehab center at that location will present potential problems for law enforcement," Tanner said.

Several Hilton Head Plantation residents raised the issue during a meeting Thursday with Michael Gillis, chief operating officer for Sunspire Health, which would operate the treatment facility.

Sunspire runs several facilities across the U.S. that treat addiction, including licensed residential rehab centers in California, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon.

At the town manager's request following Thursday's meeting, Tanner will present a report Tuesday to Town Council of any criminal activity at Sunspire facilities reported to law enforcement.

Tanner would not say Monday what he had discovered.

"It's still a work in progress, and I feel it best to address everyone's concerns at one time during the council meeting," he said.

Ellen Lovejoy, public information officer for the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Police Department, said Thursday police have had no problems with Sunspire's Recovery Road center.

A dispatcher with the Ashby, Mass., Police Department said it has had no reported criminal activity at Sunspire's Spring Hill recovery center.

Astoria, Ore., Deputy Police Chief Brad Johnston said the department had 95 calls for service to Sunspire's Astoria Pointe facility since it opened in 2008. Many of the calls, Johnston said, were from family members unaware relatives had sought treatment and wanted to check on their welfare. Other calls have been for medical emergencies, theft and harassment, he said.

The department has had no calls for service since September to Sunspire's Rosebriar facility for women, also in Astoria. Before then, the department received 20 calls for service to the location dating back to 2006, some of which were when it was a bed-and-breakfast, Johnston said.

"We have not had a lot of significant calls at either location," he said.

The Tampa Police Department received 11 combined calls for service to Sunspire's Hyde Park Counseling Center in 2012 and 2013, including one reported assault. The rest of the calls were for minor complaints, such as parking violations, an abandoned vehicle, assisting motorists and a missing-person report. There were no calls related to drug activity.

An attempt Monday to reach law enforcement in Cathedral City, Calif., where Sunspire has another facility was unsuccessful.

Several sites across the county have provided treatment and counseling services for alcohol and drug abuse on an outpatient basis largely without incident, Tanner said, including the Beaufort County Alcohol and Drug Abuse Department's offices in Beaufort and Bluffton. The Sheriff's Office also has not had any issue with the YANA Club on Hilton Head, Tanner said. The club provides meeting space for 12-step, self-help programs for those battling addiction, serving hundreds of residents and visitors a week.

"I don't, off the top of my head, remember any of these locations offering any challenges to law enforcement or issues with criminal activity," Tanner said.

Town manager Steve Riley said he could not recall a rezoning request in his 20 years with the town that necessitated getting a report from law enforcement.

"It didn't occur to anyone at the time to think of that component because it's not usually part of a rezoning process and hasn't come up before," Riley said.

Town Councilman Bill Harkins, who represents the area around the inn, hopes Tanner's report will help the town reassure residents that Sunspire "will be an added resource to our health provider base."

"It will be an attractive location for clients from the Southeast and afar," Harkins said. "It will be a good neighbor, a quality provider and a professionally staffed employer adding to our tax base."

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

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