Beaufort News

Bluffton OK's weight-loss academy's expansion despite neighbors' protests

A Pritchardville neighborhood's battle against the expansion of a weight-loss academy for teens might be over.

Bluffton Town Council voted this month to allow the academy's owner further residential and commercial development on his property, a decision nearby homeowner Tom Trout called a "slap in the face."

Dozens of homeowners near Mindstream Academy have protested at meetings and workshops since the 43-acre property near the S.C. 46-S.C. 170 roundabout was annexed into Bluffton last July.

They said the center would diminish their property values and put a commercial interest in their backyards. They lobbied council members with emails and calls, asking them to preserve the pastoral nature of the community.

The annexation changed the property's zoning from community preservation district to planned unit development, allowing owner Ray Travaglione to open the center. Trout said the neighborhood effort hasn't come up with other options to fight the zoning change.

"It was a community preservation area ... and we were supposed to have a say in what might occur there," Trout said. "I think this organization basically usurped that right."

Travaglione's first idea for the site was the Tulifinny Recovery Management Center for Women, intended to treat teenage girls struggling with drug abuse and eating disorders. Mindstream Academy, a boarding program for overweight teens, was ultimately established on the property.

Attempts this week to reach Travaglione and Mindstream Academy marketing director Matt Bodie were unsuccessful.

Tom Fitzgerald, who lives near the property, said the switch has sparked worries about what else might be built if Mindstream fails.

"We really don't know," Fitzgerald said. "And it appears there's nothing we can do about it."

Councilman Mike Raymond said the residents have a misunderstanding. He said the development that is allowed -- one residential unit per acre and up to 6,000 square feet of commercial development per acre -- is the same as in surrounding Pritchardville.

Under Beaufort County rules, an institution -- a school or a residential facility, such as a nursing home -- could have opened on the property. Bluffton's zoning allows an institution and a residential facility combined, according to assistant town manager Marc Orlando.

"Our staff worked hard to make sure this was not a zoning-shopping deal and that we were doing everything in the best interest of the landowner, the neighbors and the town of Bluffton," Raymond said. "And I think we did it."