Planning Board rejects rehab center
The Marco Island Planning Board rejected a proposal for an alcoholism and drug addiction rehabilitation facility to be located at 218 South Barfield Drive during its Feb. 3 meeting.
The recovery center was one of the most highly-anticipated items on the agenda, so much so that the board members voted to move it to the top of the list out of consideration for the dozens of community members who attended the meeting to share their concerns about the facility.
Bob Mulhere, one of the property owner’s representatives, presented the proposal to the board members. He explained that the property contains a fully-developed site which previously operated as an assisted living facility (ALF)/adult day care facility, and there would be virtually “no difference” between the ALF and the proposed rehabilitation facility because it would operate in a similar manner.
He also noted that the program will be entirely voluntary, so there will be no court-ordered patients; instead, the patients will be professionals who have private insurance or are able to personally afford up to $40,000 for a month's stay.
“I understand that there’s fear when you ask for this sort of thing,” he said, “but we’ve taken every step and every precaution to address those concerns and fears.”
But despite his reassurances, Planning Board member Ron Goldstein said he’s still concerned about the type of people who will be patients at the facility, and said he wants criminal background checks conducted on all potential patients, as well as more security than what the applicant was currently proposing.
“I’m sympathetic, but things can change,” he said, referring to Mulhere’s assurance that the facility’s patients will be quiet, discreet and affluent professionals. “I need more restrictions put on by the city: [I want] criminal background checks; I want to hear about security cameras; I want to know if it’s a locked facility – will it be locked at 7 o’clock at night? Right now, I don’t think the restrictions are strong enough.”
Dick Adams shared Goldstein’s concerns.
“People are going to be concerned that it’s going to be an unfriendly environment … with the clients,” he said. “If you don’t get the traffic that you’re looking for, will it go to a lower standard of clientele?”
But property owner Sean Moore said assuming that all – or even the majority – of people who suffer from drug or alcohol abuse have a criminal background is a misconception, and the facility's patients would be average, every day people who are simply trying to get help.
“Most of the clients that we have that are seeking help in this particular setting for substance abuse issues typically are not people that have backgrounds with crime,” he said. “To say that someone who’s dealing with substance abuse issues and looking to get well is a criminal is a big misnomer. That’s not remotely close to being the case; it’s someone who looks like us, who’s potentially a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or whatever.”
He then explained that a typical client will undergo four to seven days of intense medical detox followed by an additional two to three weeks of individual and group counseling services. The patients are not permitted to leave the facility on their own, but may occasional go on supervised excursions. They'll also be drug tested three days per week and after they pass their initial seven day detox, if they fail a test, they will be removed from the program and asked to leave.
Many residents expressed concerns about the location of the facility, noting that the neighborhood in which it would be located is currently a "safe neighborhood" full of kids who would have to walk past the center on their way to school. They also questioned the facility’s security, arguing that the patients could potentially leave through fire exits and wander the streets.
“This is nothing we want on Marco Island,” one resident said. “They can go to Naples.”
Ed Issler made a motion to deny the conditional-use permit that would allow the facility to open, which received a robust applause from those in attendance. The motion passed 5-2 with Goldstein and Hector Fernandez dissenting.
In other business
Friday was the first meeting of the new Planning Board; Erik Brechnitz and Issler were elected chair and vice-chair, respectively. The other new members include: Goldstein, Fernandez and Joseph Rola.
At the beginning of the meeting, City Council Chairman Larry Honig welcomed the new members, and briefly reminded them of their roles and responsibilities.
“You on the Planning Board provide an invaluable service to us. You do the heavy lifting that we need to look into the details, find out what's going on and make recommendations to City Council,” he said. “We rely on you very, very heavily. We depend on you.”
During the meeting the board also approved two requests for boat dock extensions, a request for a setback variance for Breezy Point Condominium and a 12-month moratorium on potential medical marijuana dispensaries located within city limits.
The Planning Board’s next meeting is 9 a.m. March 3 in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.