BROOKSVILLE — Once again, residents begged county officials on Wednesday not to allow a center for people with substance abuse and mental health issues to come to their neighborhood.
They were concerned for their families' safety, fearing that the patients at the residential center could be dangerous. Other locations would make more sense, they said.
But the County Commission, in a 3-1 vote, upheld last month's approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission of a special exception designation allowing the 20-patient facility to be built on a 10.5-acre site on the northeast corner of Grove Road and Oakado Street.
The developer is Westbridge Florida Properties LLC, which has similar facilities in other states.
"Without a doubt, if that facil ity is put in … there will be problems,'' said resident Frank Deangelis, who has done undercover law enforcement work and worked with a correctional facility.
The people the center will treat, he said, have disorders that are associated with crime and violence. For those with mental illness to add substance abuse problems on top, "that's like throwing gasoline on a fire, and this facility combines these two,'' he said.
"Please keep my children safe,'' was the plea of Amanda Goodell, who collected signatures on a petition opposing the facility.
"This is what we're going to be opening our front doors to every morning,'' said Carol Pulice, noting that children get on a school bus every morning at the corner where the center is proposed.
"We should not have to feel insecure about allowing our children, grandchildren out to play every day,'' she said.
Attorney Robert Morris, representing Westbridge, told commissioners that these concerns were the same ones that the planning board had dismissed, issues he characterized as "not in my backyard.''
Morris told commissioners to focus on the real point at hand.
"The reality is that this is a zoning issue,'' he said, noting that the surrounding land use includes planned development to agricultural zoning, proving the area is not exclusively residential.
"This is an appropriate placement for this facility,'' he said.
Other Westbridge representatives said the facility would have security features, including a 6-foot metal fence set 50 feet back from the property lines, with vegetation between the property line and the fence.
"Safety is the big deal, and we're going to build a safe building,'' said Alan Garman, representing Westbridge.
Commission Chairman Dave Russell was the sole no vote on the project. He said later that, while he knows the firm is reputable and the services they provide are needed, "I would have just preferred it in a more isolated location.''
"That being said, I welcome them in as a new business, and I hope there are no hard feelings,'' he said.
Commissioner Rose Rocco was absent from Wednesday's meeting for a family emergency.
In other business:
• Commissioners approved a consent order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in which the county will spend approximately $25,000 in penalties for environmental violations at the county landfill and two county sewer facilities.
While the state will get about $4,000 in administrative fees, county utilities officials are planning on spending the rest of that money on an in-kind project to improve environmental conditions in Hernando County.
Their leading candidate is a trailer-mounted pump to help with moving stormwater in case of a flood, but Russell asked if the county instead could help buy a special device to filter dredged water for the alternative spoils site for the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project.
Utilities Director Joe Stapf said he would ask whether that would be an acceptable project.
• Commissioners approved the first two contracts with home-owners who are using the Housing Enhancement Loan Program, which makes state housing assistance money available for interest-free, 30-year loans to fix up the homes of low-income residents.
To generate more interest in applying for the $1.7-million available for the project, an informational meeting is planned for 9 a.m. Feb. 2 in the Hernando County Commission chambers.
The income ceiling to qualify for the program is an income of $19,800 for one person, $22,600 for a family of two, $$25,450 for a family of three and $28,250 for a family of four. The top amount available per family is $37,000.
• Commissioners agreed to advertise to fill six available spots for county citizens on the two new standing county committees. Those committees will be working in conjunction with the County Commission on a variety of issues.
One committee will be focused on budget and finance, and the other on business and economic development.
The county is seeking volunteers, with a preference for those with accounting, banking, finance, education and senior management experience for the budget committee and with business, commercial, industrial, education, marketing, transportation and logistics experience for the economic development committee.
While county staff is still firming up details for commission approval, officials hope to consider applicants in February and begin meetings of the budget committee in March. The economic development committee is expected to begin meeting a month later.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.