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ZONING BOARD DENIES PERMIT FOR DRUG TREATMENT FACILITY

Mark Salak, of 219 Erkwood Drive, points to a photo of flooding around his property, which he said could worsen with more development. Mark Salak, of 219 Erkwood Drive, points to a photo of flooding around his property, which he said could worsen with more development.

The Henderson County Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously on Wednesday to deny a non-profit organization’s application for a drug treatment center on Erkwood Drive, ruling that the commercial use was incompatible with the surrounding residential use.
The board’s action came after six hours of testimony over three days from witnesses who debated whether the residential treatment center would be appropriate for the 1.3-acre property across from Mud Creek Baptist Church. In the final hour of the special-use permit hearing, which had stretched over three days, neighboring homeowners begged the board to deny the zoning permit while advocates for the center urged a yes vote.
The applicant, First Contact Ministries, argued that the facility would be secure, would serve people who were seeking treatment voluntarily and would address an urgent need in the community. Neighboring property owners said they feared the treatment center’s clients could leave voluntarily and threaten their safety, that the commercial use would harm property values and that traffic and noise would increase.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed," said Craig Halford, First Contact's founder and president. "We'll take some time and think about it and discuss whether we want to appeal or not. It's hard to find any words beyond extremely disappointed. The community has said, Nope, we don't want it."

After the public hearing part of the three-day meeting ended at 6:20 p.m., the Zoning Board of Adjustment asked questions of First Contact’s officials and began deliberating. Board of Adjustment members asked questions about water runoff, based on concerns raised by a homeowner who lives next to a small creek downstream from the facility, about the security of the facility and about whether the facility would admit people with a diagnosed mental illness such as bipolar.
Board Chair Ron Kauffman challenged one of First Contact’s expert witnesses, an appraiser who compared a smaller facility in Mills River to the Mud Creek area facility for purposes of property valuation. The two projects seemed too dissimilar to be a meaningful real estate comparable.
The opponents, who took up about half the meeting room, applauded when the board voted to deny the special-use permit.
An appeal of the zoning board’s decision would go to Henderson County Superior Court.

Residents of Dunroy, Chanteloup, Estate Drive and other neighborhoods had contributed to the cost of an attorney who led the opposition, Brian Gulden of Asheville.
Board members asked Craig Halford, First Contact’s president and founder, why the nonprofit had not looked at other sites.
“We do not have the ability to go out and buy land at the current market value,” he said. “This is available now. We can dramatically cut the amount of time that would be required to raise funds for the property” if it can use the property donated by Mud Creek Baptist Church.
In a closing statement, Gulden said that an assisted living residential center would be required to offer mental health services, even though First Contact officials said they would only treat drug and alcohol addiction. He also challenged the use of the Silver Ridge retreatment facility in Mills River as a comparable use.
First Contact attorney Derek Jones emphasized that the applicant was seeking a special-use permit, not a rezoning. “We’re looking at meeting the criterion in the application here,” he said. “We provided competent evidence for each point.”
Board members repeated that many residents had said. In a climate of serious opioid addiction, a treatment center is desperately needed. But an area with 540 homes in a half-mile radius is not the place for it.
“Like you, I would like to see more treatment program in our county” to address the serious drug and alcohol addiction, Kauffman said. “However, I’m not necessarily sure that the good Lord requires it to be built right there.”
He also expressed doubt about the staffing ratio, saying it would not be strong enough to keep up with the 42 residents if some decided to voluntarily leave the facility in the middle of the night. First Contact has said that they expect no trouble.
“Do we assume the risk that it will never happen?” he said.
“Fear of unknown operating procedures,” Fishburne said, accounted for a lot of the opposition.

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