Hernando County denies expansion for drug rehabilitation center with Scientology ties

St. Petersburg Times/June 9, 2009

Brooksville - After listening to concerned neighbors for more than an hour Tuesday, the Hernando County Commission squashed plans to expand a drug rehabilitation center in Spring Hill off Cessna Drive.

Toucan Partners LLC, a firm with ties to the Church of Scientology, owns the 3-acre site where the facility is located.

Suncoast Rehabilitation Center wanted to grow from 21 to 54 beds, but neighbors said they worried about the safety of their children and elderly residents.

Michael Burmann said he and his neighbors aren't opposed to drug rehabilitation, "we just don't think it belongs in a residential area."

Commissioners also heard from several clients of the center who spoke about how the program offered through Narconon of Spring Hill had saved their lives and helped family members.

Narconon of Spring Hill is affiliated with the Church of Scientology.

Eric Mitchell, representing the facility, said the clients are not a danger to their community. "These are people like you and I who have made mistakes in their lives and are trying to correct them," he said.

The property had once housed an adult congregate care facility. When the new owners bought it last year, the county's zoning administrator determined that a drug rehabilitation center would fit in the same land use category.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell was concerned about the change in use and the center's compatibility in the neighborhood. Commissioner Rose Rocco raised questions about security.

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