Planning Commission tables Wellery, Stonewater conditional use permits

Published 12:15 pm Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Lafayette County Planning Commission tabled the approval of conditional use permits for Wellery Farms Wellness & Recovery Center and Stonewater Adolescent Recovery Center’s expansion.

The county Building & Development Service Department proposed longer review periods for each matter.

“It’s a part of the process that we just don’t have enough time to review these things,” 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 makes them unable to issue a decision at the time.

Both items on the agenda were heavily anticipated and met with much opposition from residents who feared the consequences of Wellery Farms taking root in Taylor or Stonewater expanding their number of beds.

A crowd filled the county courtroom to share their opposition to both projects and convince the commission to refuse them conditional use permits.

Prior to the commission meeting, Paige York of York Developments held a meeting with Taylor residents last Thursday at Plein Air Chapel to discuss the idea of Wellery Farms settling in the small town. The development is planned to directly neighbor the Taylor Greene subdivision and numerous property owners in the area.

The facility would service adults who struggle with substance use and mental health disorders, feature specialized counseling and therapy and hold a maximum of 150 beds.

The proposal was met with staunch disapproval from a great majority of the audience then and the sentiments were expressed again before the commission.

Taylor Greene Homeowners’ Association board member Derek Stephens said their protests are not in opposition to the recovery community and that they think Wellery Farms is a good idea, just not in Taylor.

“This is a very complex proposal that requires a great deal of nuance,” said Stephens.

Stephens and other speakers expressed concern about the safety of Wellery Farms due to the lack of security in other treatment facilities in the area.

The county law enforcement has been put under strain due to the amount of calls they receive from the centers and the time it takes to address runaway patients.

According to Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Micah East, the sheriff’s department logged 427 from the Oxford Treatment Center from January 1, 2019 to November 12, 2021. In the same period, the department logged 149 calls from Stonewater and, of those calls, a third were runaways.

“When someone runs away it is our responsibility because they are in our county and when we go looking around for these runaways, I’m not talking about a 30 minute run and grabbing them off the side of the road,” said East. “I’ve been on calls with investigations for 24 hours where we didn’t know where these children were.”

Another homeowner reported that the sight of county deputies looking for runaways from Stonewater in her front and backyard is all too common. Stonewater is looking to expand its facilities but Commissioner Ray Garrett said that would pose a bigger problem for the sheriff’s department.

“147 with 16 beds works out to 9 calls per bed,” said Garrett. “If you triple your beds, you’re talking about 448 calls is what you’d be generating. That is a tremendous burden on Lafayette County.”

Garrett said he’d be interested to know the economic impact the calls and the response to runaways have on the county.

In addition, Stonewater received accusations of patient negligence. According to statements from the audience members, the underage patients are allowed to walk off the property. 

Stonewater CEO Brian Fikes said Stonewater has a policy in place to help patients exit the recovery center and that they are provided full assistance off the property.

A neighbor reported that the facility left a newly 18 year old patient from Louisiana with no assistance and made no contact with law enforcement for assistance or to the patient’s parents regarding their whereabouts.

“They told us that since he was 18 years old, he could walk off the facility and he could not come back,” said Susan Vaughn. “No bottle of water, no cell phone and they helped him pack the bags and watched him walk down the driveway.”

When asked by Planning Commissioner Ray Garret if the incident occurred, Fikes said he could not speak to that 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 it will work with the commission to determine which calls were about runaways from the center and provide a copy of their policies and procedures.

“This board has got to know exactly what is going on,” said Kent. “This is not the first time I’ve heard about Stonewater, but we have to deal with facts before we decide anything.” 

The Lafayette County Planning Commission next meeting is set on Monday, December 27, 2021 at 5:30 p.m. in the Chancery Court building.