After more than five hours of public comment, testimony from local law enforcement and a presentation from Paul Leafstedt, who is looking to build Healing Pines Recovery Center, the Elbert County …
This item is available in full to subscribers.
If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.
Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.
If you made a voluntary contribution in 2019-2020, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.
After more than five hours of public comment, testimony from local law enforcement and a presentation from Paul Leafstedt, who is looking to build Healing Pines Recovery Center, the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners unanimously decided on July 15 to delay their decision for the Special Use By Review rezoning request until Aug. 12.
Despite nearly six months of reviewing Leafstedt’s application to change zoning from Agriculture to Commercial, including addressing concerns from commissioners and citizens, the three board members indicated they did not have enough information to make a decision.
“I’m uncomfortable with the application,” said Commissioner Grant Thayer. “To me there’s no plan here. There’s concerns about the kitchen situation, and the commercial well. I don’t see anything where you have adjudicated your well. We don’t want commercial businesses competing with residents.”
Community members expressed various concerns, including residents of the treatment center smoking on the property, creating a fire hazard; children living in the neighborhood next to men recovering from addiction; and the loss of a rural environment.
Elbert County Sheriff Tim Norton addressed the crowd regarding his expectation that the facility would create an increased need for law enforcement.
“Basing my comments on over 34 years of experience, I’ve dealt with treatment facilities, and you will see an increase for calls for service,” said Norton. “I dealt with facilities in neighborhoods and it was a daily occurrence that police were called to these locations. For a variety of reasons, when you get a group of people together like this, who are all battling the same issues, tempers flare. We are already short-staffed, and if we get called for an issue out there, that leaves us a person short somewhere else. I’m here on behalf of all the men and women of the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office to say we really oppose this being approved by the Board of Commissioners.”
Norton’s statement received applause from those in attendance, some of whom said they would sell their property and leave the county if Healing Pines is approved.
Greg Szewczyk, attorney for Healing Pines, said although he understood the emotions behind the concerns, none of them were legal reasons to deny the application, which, he said, has met all criteria necessary and was approved by the planning commission.
“The main point heard today is that this is not in harmony with the neighborhood,” said Szewczyk. “Some neighbors have offered to let residents come work with their animals. Many people have said they agree with what the facility would do for people with addiction. There are a few who are vocal about not wanting it here. But concerns cannot be a basis for denial. We have met all legal obligations for the application.”
Szewczyk also pointed out that he and Leafstedt had submitted several letters to the BOCC from other recovery centers stating they had not had an increase in calls in their neighborhoods.
“I’m not sure what type of facilities or where Sheriff Norton has had experiences,” said Szewczyk. “But that cannot be a basis for denial. We submitted letters from facilities that have never called the police. Healing Pines has done everything by the book and will continue to do so. There is not sufficient evidence to legally deny the application.”
Leafstedt expressed frustration about the process, which began in January with his first filing.
“It’s a little bit frustrating, and has been one of the most emotionally straining things I’ve had to do in my life,” said Leafstedt. “From the first meeting that felt like an attack, then to go through it and get it pushed and pushed and pushed again. I would have appreciated it in advance if you had said `What’s your time frame?’ Or any other questions you had I would have prepared in advance.”
Commissioner Chris Richardson, the BOCC chair, said commissioners needed more information to make a final decision, and called a brief recess while they consulted their calendars. Upon returning, commissioners voted to visit the application again on Aug. 12 at 1 p.m.
Healing Pines would house up to eight men age 18 and older who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. According to Leafstedt, all applicants would be screened and medically cleared before being accepted into the program. The facility is not a detox center or a sober living home, and would only be open for men who were already on the path to recovery. Leafstedt hopes to utilize the rural environment to help aid in the recovery of residents.
Other items that may interest you
We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.