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Neighbors poised to fight drug rehab center

Engineer Jared DeRidder (center) shows drawing of proposed Residential Recovery Center as First Contact President Craig Halford (left) looks on. Engineer Jared DeRidder (center) shows drawing of proposed Residential Recovery Center as First Contact President Craig Halford (left) looks on.

A full house is expected Wednesday night when supporters and opponents of a drug rehab center across from Mud Creek Baptist Church make their case to the Henderson County Zoning Board of Adjustment.

First Contact Ministries cleared the first hurdle last week in its application for a special-use permit for a two-story, 20,000-square-foot facility that would offer a seven-week residential drug rehabilitation program for 42 men and women. The Residential Recovery Center would be on 2.76 acres on Erkwood Road east of Rutledge Drive and across from Mud Creek Baptist Church, which formed First Contact Ministries.
The county’s Technical Review Committee on Sept. 18 certified that First Contact had met technical requirements, provided it submit additional information on proposed water and sewer connections with the city of Hendersonville.
“We’re merely just looking at the site plan and whether it complies with the land development code,” Senior Planner Autumn Radcliff said. “We’re taking up technical issues only. We’re not deciding whether this use is an appropriate use or should be located there.”
At a meeting of the Board of Commissioners the next day, an Asheville attorney representing homeowners opposed to the treatment center, Brian Gulden, argued that the window for review of the application was too narrow. First Contact and Mud Creek Baptist Church, which owns the property, filed the zoning application on Aug. 29.
“This shortened schedule has only allowed the citizens of this community including my client a mere 29 days from the submission of the application to the public hearing in front of the Board of Adjustment,” Gulden said. The shortened period “runs contrary to what was adopted by this board in your land development code,” which he said requires a 60-day review period prior to the public hearing.
Commissioners turned to County Attorney Russ Burrell, who said that in fact the land-use code requires the Zoning Board of Adjustment to take up the request in its September meeting.
Don Huneycutt, a resident of Dunroy on Rutledge Drive, urged the commissioners to stop the rehab center permit, although under the county land-use ordinance the decision belongs to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. An appeal by either side would go to the Henderson County Superior Court.
“The intention to build this massive commercial facility in a residential area is now perceived as a threat, almost a hostile act, that will do significant harm to hundreds of residents in multiple ways for generations to come,” Huneycutt said. “This will result, in my opinion, in the loss of reputation of Mud Creek Baptist Church, which we know is not their intent.”
In a preview of points he is likely to repeat before the zoning board, Gulden told the Technical Review Committee that First Contact was using both residential and office-institutional requirements depending on which category accommodated its request.
“Although an assisted living residence, permitted as a special-use, the land-use code does not allow the 43 parking spaces the code requires” in a residential zone, he said. He cited conflicts as well on a loading bay, dumpsters and how much surface could be covered by pavement or buildings.
“The applicant seems to want to call it one thing for residential use and get the benefit of that, not having to comply with the maximum impervious surface, but that when the need arises for having six offices in this building and two conference rooms and 43 parking spaces, they want to have Office and Institutional,” he said. “You can’t have it both ways.”
First Contact is applying for a special use permit for the 2.7-acre site, which is zoned both Residential One and Estate Residential and surrounded by Hendersonville and Flat Rock zoning jurisdictions. The staff recommendation is to approve the major site plan application “because it is consistent with the current surrounding land uses and future land use recommendations.”
To win zoning board approval, the applicant must show that the use will “not materially endanger the public health, safety or welfare, not substantially injure the value of property or improvements in the area; and be in harmony with the surrounding area.”
Homeowners have argued that the rehab center would threaten the safety of the area and devalue property and that it would not be compatible with the largely residential area.
First Contact President Craig Halford, who has headed the ministry for five years, defended the proposal in a letter published last week in the Hendersonville Lightning last week.
“Those coming to the center will be clean. They will already be detoxed before they get to the facility,” he said. “Potential clients will come voluntarily; no one will be forced. Potential clients will be tested and thoroughly screened; sex offenders and violent criminals will not be allowed. Mud Creek Church is one of the most secure buildings in the neighborhood and this facility will be the same. … According to our research there will be no negative affect on property values.” First Contact plans to call at least one real estate expert to testify as to property values.
The rehab center, he said, would be a good neighbor.
“This neighborhood is like every neighborhood; the addicted are here,” he said. “This center will be a beacon of hope to the neighborhood. This center is consistent with and will enhance the ministry of Mud Creek Church which has been the center of the community for over 200 years.”

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The Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear the case at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the county commission meeting room on the second floor of the Historic Courthouse. It has been moved from the King Street county building because of the number of people expected to attend.