BROOKSVILLE — Teena Fager used to enjoy her back yard, but that was before the new neighbors moved in behind her.
What really put her off was the night earlier this year when she heard yelling coming from the property along her back lot line.
"It was some guy," she said. "It was like someone being tortured."
Fager prepared to call 911, but then she heard other voices — women and men laughing.
It made her uneasy, and she doesn't use her back yard anymore.
She's not alone in her fear.
In August, the 3-acre site behind Fager's home was bought by Toucan Partners LLC, a firm with ties to the Church of Scientology. The elderly residents who previously had inhabited the small assisted living facility were moved out.
They were replaced with drug and alcohol addicts seeking rehabilitation under the care of Narconon of Spring Hill, an organization affiliated with the Church of Scientology. The facility is called the Suncoast Rehabilitation Center and is on Cessna Drive.
On Tuesday, Fager and her neighbors plan to ask the County Commission to deny the operators of the treatment facility permission to expand from two to five buildings and from 22 to 54 beds. Neighbors say that a county staff member should never have given permission for the old assisted living facility to be turned into a drug rehabilitation center.
Commissioners agreed to hear the case at the request of concerned residents. Previously, the county Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special exception that would allow the addition of the two new dormitories, an administration building and various swimming and sports facilities.
Originally, the property was part of a larger tract of 11.6 acres. And years ago, the county granted permission to place 15 buildings and 150 beds for congregate living on the larger piece of property.
Knowing that the treatment center was affiliated with Scientology, Fager was concerned about the nature of the program offered there. Recently, the center's director, Eric Mitchell, gave her a tour.
During the tour, Mitchell assured her that the center wants to cooperate with the community and that the work the center does helps many people get off drugs and alcohol.
The center's Web site describes a program in which an addict is helped to kick his or her addiction by using vitamins, sauna treatments and exercise. Drugs are not used to assist with the withdrawal.
Mitchell has said that the program includes voluntary participants who average a 90- to 120-day stay. None are there through court order. It is not like an affiliated medical detoxification center in New Port Richey where patients stay for about seven days through the acute withdrawal stages.
Mitchell said he has invited people to visit the facility and wants people to know that the center is currently sponsoring drug education and prevention activities in the county. He also noted that the center has widespread support locally from residents and businesses.
Shawn Jones, a 31-year-old patient at the rehab center, said residents shouldn't be concerned about the people seeking help there. They are all there voluntarily. "There is nobody that doesn't want to be here," he said.
Jones, a Florida resident who was a cocaine user, said that the program had changed his life. "I feel better than I have ever in my whole life," he said.
Fager said that after seeing the facility and talking to people there, she still plans to aggressively oppose the expansion. As an official with her neighborhood's crime watch, her security concerns have not been answered sufficiently, she said.
She has been helping her cousin, Sandy DeConinck, who has been going door to door gathering signatures to present to the commission.
DeConinck said that the exercise has allowed her to educate neighbors about what is planned. "I kind of feel like there is strength in numbers," she said. "A lot of people are uninformed."
Like others in the area, she worries about her property value and hopes that county commissioners will take a hard look at the project.
"I'm hoping that the elected officials will take a look at this and do the right thing for the people who put them in office," DeConinck said.
Other neighbors have expressed concerns that the patients from the center have come onto their property or that they wander through the neighborhood at night. One told county officials that the patients seemed to be scoping out mailboxes and homes throughout the area.
Neighbor Thomas Cooper has written to county commissioners and to Sheriff Richard Nugent. Cooper, whose wife is disabled, said he worries about security. His swimming pool, which his wife needs for therapy, is just 18 feet from the fence around the treatment center.
"It's sort of an alarm to me," Cooper said, noting that the community is full of elderly residents and children. "It's a nice neighborhood. … Why don't they take it down to Tampa? We certainly don't need it here."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.