'A RISK FOR OUR COMMUNITY' or a 'SECOND CHANCE'? Narconon expansion a no go — for now

The Destin Log, Florida/November 8, 2011

After more than three hours of testimony during its Nov. 2 meeting, the city's Board of Adjustments (BOA) couldn't agree on whether or not to push forward an application that would allow Narconon Gulf Coast to add more patients to its existing facility.

"Statistically, this is a risk for our community," said Tiara Cameron, whose Crystal Beach home sits directly behind the facility. "We should err on the side of safety and precaution."

Cameron, a mother of three, also sent a letter to the city where she wrote that city's priority should be to "attract vacationers and not drug addicts to Destin." As of Oct. 25, the city had received more than 20 letters in opposition to the change.

The adults-only treatment program, which has two locations in Destin, treats everything from opiate addiction and alcoholism to prescription pain killer addiction and other substance abuse problems. The non-profit organization recently submitted an application that would allow them to increase the number of "students" as they are called in their smaller facility from six to 12.

Narconon opened its first facility in Destin eight years ago. In 2008, city leaders and unhappy residents looked to block the treatment facility from opening a second location, which ultimately was unsuccessful.

Debra Ross, the facilities executive director, told board members that the smaller facility is used as an "educational center" where people go to as part of their treatment. They spend time doing bookwork and working on their "battle plan" for when they complete the program.

"Our students come from all walks of life and these are people who want to change their lives, who want to get better," Ross told the board. "They are monitored 24 hours a day… safety is our No. 1 concern."

While most of the talk during the latest hearing was in opposition, board member Cyron Marler was supportive of the proposal. He told the board the biggest problem he saw was "fear of the unknown."

"There are so many unknowns, you can sit there all day and talk about all the unknowns, but whatever happened to giving second chances? Whatever happened to people being given a chance?" he said. "I understand residents' concerns… you have to give something a chance before you say no."

With the decision in their hands, the BOA took two votes. The first vote, which tied 2-2, was to approve the application and the second vote, to deny the application, also deadlocked at 2-2.

A memorandum from the city's planning division says that the BOA's decision can be appealed to the circuit court within 30 days of the ruling.

Ross told The Log she would have to speak with her attorney before she could comment on the whether or not an appeal would be filed. She didn't get back to The Log before press time.

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