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Huntersville Rejects Psychiatric Hospital

After months of debate, Huntersville commissioners denied a rezoning request for a proposed psychiatric hospital at N.C. 115 and Verhoeff Drive on Monday night. The proposed hospital would have offered inpatient and outpatient services and was projected to open in 2013, pending the town commissioners' approval. But despite the support of the town planning board, which voted 8-1 to approve the rezoning, town commissioners voted 4-2 to deny the request from Carolinas HealthCare System. . "This is one of the most heart-wrenching decisions that I've had to make," said Commissioner Ron Julian. "Providing behavioral and mental health is just as important as providing health care to one's body. I'm voting 'no' on this but I do not take this vote lightly." Perhaps the most vocal opponents to the plan were residents from the neighboring Monteith Place, who cited everything from safety concerns to traffic impact in the area. "My child's safety is my main concern," resident Steve Owens said before Monday's vote. "We need this facility, just not right in my backyard." Proponents frequently pointed out that one in four people suffer from some type of mental illness. They also noted the need for such a facility in the area, especially given the growth Huntersville has seen in the last decade. "I would encourage this community to continue making decisions based on hope and not fear and stigma," said resident Chelsea Ingram, who attends UNC-Wilmington. "God forbid it's your children who have to deal with (mental illness). hopefully, it will be in this behavioral health facility that they will find treatment." After last-minute appeals from both sides, Commissioner Sarah McAulay made the initial motion to deny the request. Ultimately, Commissioners Charles Jeter, Charles Guignard and Julian voted to also deny the request. Commissioners Danny Phillips and Melinda Bales voted for the rezoning. Bales described a recent trip that she and Phillips made to CMC-Randolph, a behavioral health facility in Charlotte operated by CHS. "It was very tranquil and not what I was expecting," said Bales. "I too have family with mental illness. I understand the treatment that they need and deserve. I would rather that person who is mentally ill have treatment available in my neighborhood than to not." Before the final vote, Jeter told attendants that the decision was not as black and white as some may think. "As someone who comes from a family with a long history of mental illness, I know the need for this facility," he said. Still, he added that as a father, he can sympathize with residents who fear for their children's safety with a mental health facility next door. Carolinas HealthCare issued a statement late Monday night from Vice President Mary Beth Kuzmanovich, who said she "was disappointed" in the vote from town commissioners. "The services that would be housed at this proposed facility are critically needed in our community," Kuzmanovich said. "The need will not disappear with the town's actions this evening. Carolinas HealthCare System will review all available options over the next few weeks, but it's premature to say what the best option might be." Carolinas HealthCare must submit a significantly different site plan to be considered for another rezoning request at the same site.