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Residents organize to oppose treatment center

Hilton Swing describes parcels owned by Mud Creek Baptist Church on Erkwood Drive at Kanuga Drive. Hilton Swing describes parcels owned by Mud Creek Baptist Church on Erkwood Drive at Kanuga Drive.

Residents of Dunroy, Estate Drive, Chanteloup and other neighborhoods near the intersection of Erkwood Drive and Rutledge Drive are gearing up to fight a proposed addiction treatment center on the campus of Mud Creek Baptist Church.

About 70 residents turned out earlier this month at the Henderson County public library to hear Don Huneycutt, a financial adviser, and Hilton Swing, a real estate agent, talk about the land-use code and how opponents could fight a rezoning application.
Huneycutt and his wife, Julie, have been active in the fight against prescription drug abuse. They founded Anna’s Hope, named for a daughter who died of a prescription drug overdose. Julie Huneycutt directs HopeRx, an organization of health care providers, social workers and law enforcement that fights opioid abuse. She attended the neighborhood meeting but did not speak.
“I don’t think I’ve heard a single person in this room or anywhere else that has said we are opposed to helping folks who struggle with this issue,” said Don Huneycutt, who lives in Dunroy. “This is not an opposition to helping people. This is one of opposition to location and a zoning integrity issue and also an incompatibility issue. We’re not focused on, ‘Let’s get it out of this area because we just don’t feel like we want to look at it.’ I think we’re kindred spirits in wanting to help and getting a treatment facility in Henderson County. We’ve been advocating that for years.”


The nonprofit ministry of Mud Creek Baptist Church announced plans to build a 45-bed treatment facility on Erkwood Drive across from the church.

“We’re basically still in the process of looking. We’re pretty close to making a decision but I’m not prepared to do that today,” said Craig Halford, president of First Contact Addiction Ministries, said. “The process is still ongoing and we’ll probably be making a decision soon on which direction we’re going to go. We’re not going to do anything until we’ve got the money raised.”
Formed in 2011, the ministry wants to build a residential treatment center. Mud Creek Baptist Church congregants voted Dec. 19 to allow First Contact Ministries to enter into a long-term lease for a 2.6-acre parcel of property across Erkwood Drive from the church. First Contact plans to raise $3 million before it starts work on the 15,000-square-foot treatment facility. The ministry held its first big fundraiser, the “Take the Mask Off Addiction Masquerade Ball,” last Friday.

Huneycutt told the gathering he met with John Mitchell, the county’s director of Business and Community Development director, who told him that residents were welcome to come ask questions.
“He said ‘bring everybody from Erkwood and Rutledge if you need to.’ He was very open to hearing from everybody,” he said. Mitchell told him: “Please don’t come and talk about how it’s going to depreciate your property value. Whether it’s true or not, we’re going to assume you’re concerned about your property values.”
Instead, Huneycutt urged residents to talk about the broader issue of land use.
“We’re going to focus on zoning integrity and compatibility vs. incompatibility of this going into our residential community and what makes it a neighborhood,” Huneycutt said.

The area already has two treatment facilities — Hope Academy, for special-needs children, on church property on Rutledge, and a small group home behind the barbershop on Erkwood.
“And we’re adding a third care center” if the treatment center opens, he said.
Swing said any commercial use as large as the center First Contact has proposed would be incompatible.
“It’s my opinion that a 15,000-square-foot facility of any kind is not in keeping with the residential character of all the neighborhoods that are around this area,” Swing said. “What we’re talking about is zoning integrity and zoning compatibility and those are the things that affect our property values.
By his count, there are some 1,500 homes within a 1-mile radius of Mud Creek church.
“Let’s stick to the facts,” Swing said. “We want to talk about zoning integrity. Does this facility maintain the residential character of the neighborhood? I posit that it doesn’t.” He recommended that opponents make “a good cohesive argument” that commissioners will hear “knowing there’s a thousand people behind it.”
Swing and others also argue that the need for opioid addiction treatment is so great that the First Contact center would hardly made a dent.
“At 42-odd beds, it would be occupied overnight,” he said. “We probably need 200 beds.”
Clay Smith, also a Dunroy resident, has researched opioid addiction treatment.
“There’s a realization that what First Contact and Mud Creek are proposing is totally inadequate,” he said.
His research suggests that successful rehab models suggest rely on alternative drug treatments, intensive mental health counseling and other services that First Contact does not plan to use.
“You’ve gotta have counseling of various forms including vocational counseling,” he said. “So many of these addicts are simply unprepared to go into the job market at all. … . If you don’t employ those drugs, the rate of relapse is going to be probably 80-90 percent so you go through all this effort and people are going to relapse anyway.”
“Our position is it’s not compatible with the neighborhood,” he said. “It was zoned residential in the first place because it is a residential neighborhood. We see what I would call creeping commercialization on the part of Mud Creek, the church, child care, a daycare facility, the Hope Academy. They bought all this land around there. They’ve got an ungodly amount of parking lots, the whole thing in becoming a religious commercial empire over there, and we think it’s wrong. It’s not right for all this to be happening in a residential area.”
The problem of opioid addiction is much bigger than First Contact can tackle on its own, Smith said.
“No. 1, I don’t think the county has given the fight against drugs any consideration at all,” he said. “That is a major problem. If we’ve got 2,000 addicts in this county, it’s a burden on law enforcement, on the courts, on the jail, on the probation folks, on DSS, on EMS. It goes on and on. They’re all being impacted by this and the county’s not doing anything. I think the county has to do something about it.”
He would support a treatment facility, just not one close to his home.
“Their heart is in the right place,” he said. “I know they think what they’re doing is a very good thing, but it isn’t. It’s not the right thing.”
As for the zoning, Halford, the First Contact president, said, “If we go to the zoning board they’ll make that determination.”
“We’re not interested in getting a fight started,” he added. “We’re looking at the concerns from Dunroy. The last thing I want to do is create a greater controversy than needs to be. We will determine soon what direction we’re going in and the community will be notified when we apply for a special use permit. The best way to describe it is due diligence.”