Dismissing a group of vocal opponents who packed a meeting Tuesday, Hilton Head Island Town Council unanimously approved a plan to convert a boutique hotel into a treatment center for addiction and depression.
On a 7-0 vote, council approved Main Street Inn & Spa's request to rezone the property, despite continued opposition from some nearby residents. Those residents fear the facility would bring rampant drug use and crime to the area and devalue surrounding property.
On Tuesday, those concerns were largely debunked by law enforcement, a Realtor and a medical professional on the island.
A survey by the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office of police departments near existing Sunprise facilities revealed a lack of criminal activity, based on calls for service, Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.
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Sunspire runs six facilities across the country, including licensed residential rehab centers in California, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon.
Tanner told council none of the departments witnessed a rise in crime associated with the centers. Of the few services calls made, to the facilities, most were for fire alarms, medical emergencies, health and welfare checks, Tanner said.
"You would not know the facility was there unless you were going there to use it," he said of the response from the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Police Department.
David Bachelder of Charter 1 Commercial also spoke with Realtors in those communities, all of whom said Sunspire's facilities have had a positive impact.
"All the reports I collected ... (show) that it is a good neighbor and an asset to the associated communities, with no adverse impact on residential real estate values," Bachelder told council.
He told council he talked with a Cathedral City, Calif., developer who plans to build 31 homes next to Sunspire's Desert Palms Recovery center. Bachelder said the developer has "no concerns" about being able to sell those homes.
Council also received a letter from Hilton Head Hospital president and CEO Mark O'Neil endorsing the rezoning. His letter said the inpatient center fills an unmet need in the community, and complements services provided by the hospital.
' A NEEDED RESOURCE'
The testimonials, however, did little to quiet the opposition. About 100 residents attended the meeting.
Hilton Head Plantation residents continued to object to what they saw as a business ill-suited for Main Street and a lack of due diligence by the town to determine the impact it will have on neighboring schools, businesses and homeowners. Two business officials also spoke against the plan. Their comments mirrored those of residents.
The owner of The Main Street Inn & Spa intends to sell the 34-room property to Behavioral Health Solutions, which owns Sunspire, after efforts to expand and keep the hotel profitable failed.
"It was a bad decision then," Mayor Drew Laughlin said of denying the inn's expansion request, "and not allowing a viable use of this property would be a bad decision now."
Current zoning allows only a 34-room hotel and 1,200-square-foot restaurant. The change approved by council will allow a residential center for the treatment of drug and alcohol dependency, as well as the mental-health needs of nonviolent patients admitted voluntarily.
The facility is not allowed to treat people serving jail sentences, recently released prison inmates or those participating in a court diversion program, according to town and Sunspire officials. The center will be licensed by the state and monitored by local governments.
It will not serve the indigent or those suffering from chronic mental illness, and will employ board-certified physicians, psychologists, social workers and mental health counselors, said island attorney Walter Nester, who represents both the inn and Sunspire.
Clients will be supervised around the clock and not allowed to leave the property without staff supervision. The center also intends to use discreet fencing and security cameras, Nester said.
"I cannot seem to grapple with any facts that substantiate that having this facility in the location will in any way be harmful to the citizens in our community," councilwoman Kim Likins said. "It will be overseen as it should be and will be a needed community resource."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.