A substance abuse facility treating male teens that is being proposed for the back of a south Augusta neighborhood drew opposition from neighbors during a public hearing Tuesday.
After their regular meeting, Augusta planning commissioners listened for nearly two hours as both sides gave their views on the residential facility proposed by WestCare Georgia for a 20.7-acre tract in the Green Meadows neighborhood.
The property at 3042 Eagle Drive was once used by the Order of St. Helena, which is trying to sell the land after moving to North Augusta. A sister from the convent spoke in favor of the drug rehabilitation center operating there.
Opponents of the facility, mostly longtime residents of Green Meadows, far outnumbered advocates. There were nearly 70 against the center and about a dozen proponents.
WestCare Georgia is a branch of WestCare Foundation, a national nonprofit organization based in Nevada that operates substance abuse and addiction, domestic violence and prevention and mental health services as well as homeless and runaway shelters in 17 states. It has three locations in Georgia.
Representatives of the organization want to move residents from an outdated Keysville, Ga., facility to a new Augusta center. The local facility would offer short-term substance abuse treatment to males ages 14-17 and would house a maximum of 32 beds.
A handful of neighbors speaking at Wednesday’s meeting cited concerns that the center would lower property values, further damage deteriorating roads and overtax water and sewer infrastructure. A video was played for planning commissioners that showed mostly elderly residents speaking about the neighborhood and why they were against the project, which they referred to as a drug rehab center or halfway house.
One neighbor worried what would happen to the safe, tranquil neighborhood she has lived in for decades. Another resident had concerns that, because the center would be built 75 feet from her home, she would find a patient sitting on her porch or swimming in her pool. Others said such a facility had no place in a neighborhood and spoke of perhaps carrying a weapon or moving.
Nadine Collins, a resident in Green Meadows, said about 81 percent of her neighbors opposed the center. She presented a petition with
signatures from 87 households.
Speaking on behalf of WestCare, local attorney Patrick Rice said there were a lot of misconceptions about the center, which would be under around-the-clock surveillance and would offer teens high school classes and credits.
He said the residents would be sent to the center by family members and supporters, be screened by professionals and were not “thugs” or “hoodlums.”
“These are not children in the criminal justice system,” he said. “They’re not juvenile delinquents.”
He said WestCare would make a “substantial monetary investment” in the area and create 26 well-paying jobs.
No other prospective buyers have been interested in the property in the year it has been on the market, Rice added.
Several advocates of the center, including WestCare executives, addressed planning commissioners and played their own video of people speaking highly of the organization. WestCare Georgia Vice President Michael Langford described the operation as a “ministry” given in a safe, structured environment.
The public hearing was meant only to inform planning commissioners, who will vote on the issue in February. The full commission will have the final vote next year.