Port St. Lucie zoning board approves site plan, denies zoning change for drug treatment campus

PORT ST. LUCIE — Emotions were heated at a Port St. Lucie Planning and Zoning board meeting, as residents voiced their disapproval of a proposed facility on Torino Parkway.

The board voted to recommend approval for the site plan for a drug rehabilitation center by the city council and recommended denial for the project's request for a zoning change to allow a drug detoxification building.

"This application is not the city of Port St. Lucie's project," said Daniel Holbrook, Planning and Zoning director for the city. "We're bound to actually consider that application, so it's going through the review process."

At the end of a four-hour meeting that began at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, the board voted 5 to 2 to approve the site plan, with Susan Parks and Robert Martin dissenting, and 5 to 2 voting against the zoning change to allow the detox center, with Ken Martin and Christine Skurka in the minority.

The two-building Torino Treatment Campus is planned at Torino Parkway and Zenith Drive in western Port St. Lucie.

The vacant lot is zoned as institutional, which allows group homes that can accommodate the rehab aspect of the facility. The board's recommendation denies a special exemption that would allow the detox building. The project will go before the City Council at a later date.

Mayor JoAnn Faiella attended part of the meeting, and said she was cognizant of the issues the public have with the project.

"I have to look at this as a resident too," Faiella said.

Torino Campus would house existing clients of New Life Addiction Treatment Center. The 21 clients currently live in six rehab institutional homes throughout the city and during the day receive treatment at New Life's office at Prima Vista Boulevard and U.S. 1.

City officials decided to postpone taking a vote during a Planning and Zoning Board meeting in July. Tuesday's meeting had more than 40 residents show up to protest the facility, citing concerns of recovering drug addicts committing crimes in their neighborhood and causing property values to drop.

They met with developers in July and also organized a gathering in August to discuss how they will lobby the city to reject Torino Treatment Campus. They have also sent emails and letters to Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers.

"These centers belong next to hospitals and not in residential areas," Port St. Lucie resident Austin Youngye said. "It is a bad idea."

The city's senior assistant attorney Pam Booker said recovering alcohol and drug addicts were protected by federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and discriminating against the facility would open up the city to potential litigation.

"We do take all your comments and concerns to heart in this matter. ... There are several (similar) cases where residents have ... voiced their objections," Booker said. "Unfortunately, … sometimes those comments have been used against those very governments. … It just doesn't end well."

Developers for the project made changes to make it more appealing to residents, reducing the 80-bed, two-story building to a one-story building with 40 beds and increasing the size of the buffering wall.

"For a comparison of density and intensity, what we're proposing today is less than what's ... at other (rehab) facilities in the county, as well as in the city," said Brad Currie, land planner for the project. "Port St. Lucie deserves a state of the art facility."

Location: Northwest East Torino Parkway and Northwest Zenith Drive
Size: 3.93 acres
Phase 1: 9,900 square foot, one story convalescent home for detox with 30 beds
Phase 2: 14,000 square foot, one story group home with 40 beds

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