The Lafayette County Planning Commission filed for conditional use permit approval for the expansion of the Wellery Farms wellness and recovery center and Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center.
The county’s Department of Construction and Development Services proposed longer review periods for each question.
âIt’s part of the process that we just don’t have enough time to look at these things,â said Joel Hollowell, director of development services.
Planning Commissioner Jason Kent said the lack of time and the board’s lack of information on the two massive and highly sensitive projects made them unable to make a decision at the time.
The two items on the agenda were eagerly awaited and encountered a lot of opposition from residents who feared the consequences of the establishment of Wellery Farms in Taylor or Stonewater by increasing their number of beds.
A crowd filled the county courtroom to share their opposition to the two projects and convince the commission to deny them conditional use permits.
Ahead of the commission meeting, Paige York of York Developments held a meeting with residents of Taylor last Thursday at Plein Air Chapel to discuss the idea of ââsetting up Wellery Farms in the small town. The development is planned to be directly adjacent to the Taylor Greene subdivision and many landowners in the area.
The facility would provide services to adults with addiction and mental health issues, provide specialist counseling and therapy, and house a maximum of 150 beds.
The proposal was met with the staunch disapproval of a large majority of the audience at the time and the sentiments were re-expressed before the commission.
Taylor Greene Homeowners’ Association board member Derek Stephens said their protests were not against the salvage community and they thought Wellery Farms was a good idea, but not Taylor.
âThis is a very complex proposition that requires a lot of nuance,â Stephens said.
Stephens and other stakeholders have expressed concern for the safety of Wellery Farms due to the lack of security at other processing facilities in the area.
County law enforcement has been strained by the number of calls they receive from centers and the time it takes to treat runaway patients.
According to Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department investigator Micah East, the Sheriff’s Department recorded 427 calls from the Oxford fulfillment center from January 1, 2019 to November 12, 2021. During the same period, the department has recorded 149 calls from Stonewater and, of those calls, a third was runaways.
“When someone runs away, it is our responsibility because they are in our county and when we are looking for these runaways, I am not talking about a 30 minute run and catching them on the side of the road” , East said. âI received calls with inquiries for 24 hours where we did not know where these children were. “
Another homeowner reported that the sight of county deputies searching for Stonewater escapees in front of and in his backyard was all too common. Stonewater is looking to expand its facilities, but Commissioner Ray Garrett said it would pose a bigger problem for the Sheriff’s Department.
â147 with 16 beds equals 9 calls per bed,â Garrett said. âIf you triple your beds, you will generate 448 calls. It is a huge burden for the riding of Lafayette.
Garrett said he would be interested to know the economic impact of the runaway calls and response on the county.
In addition, Stonewater received accusations of negligence on the part of a patient. According to spectator statements, underage patients are allowed to leave the property.
Stonewater CEO Brian Fikes said Stonewater has a policy in place to help patients leave the recovery center and they are receiving full assistance off the property.
A neighbor reported that the facility left a newly 18-year-old patient from Louisiana unassisted and made no contact with law enforcement for help or with the patient’s parents regarding their plight .
âThey told us that since he was 18 he could leave the facility and he couldn’t come back,â said Susan Vaughn. “No water bottle, no cell phone and they helped him pack the bags and watched him walk down the aisle.”
When asked by Planning Commissioner Ray Garret if the incident had happened, Fikes said he couldn’t speak to it in case his statement violated HIPAA laws. However, he agreed to a conversation with the commission about obtaining the information for them.
A legal representative for Stonewater said he would work with the commission to determine which calls involved runaways from the center and provide a copy of their policies and procedures.
âThis board needs to know exactly what’s going on,â Kent said. “It’s not the first time I’ve heard of Stonewater, but we need to get to the facts before we decide anything.”
The next Lafayette County Planning Commission meeting is set for Monday, December 27, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. in the Chancery Court building.