Kitty Hawk says no to putting rehab center in old beach motel

By on September 8, 2016

The Buccaneer is on the beach road in Kitty Hawk. (Voice)

After hearing more than an hour of public comment Tuesday night, the Kitty Hawk Town Council rejected a zoning change that would have allowed therapeutic residential treatment facilities as a conditional use in the town’s Beach Hotel district.

David and Sandy Briggman, owners of the Buccaneer Motel and Beach Suites, applied for the text amendment so they could move forward with plans to convert their beach road motel into Changing Tides Oceanfront Treatment Center, a facility for people recovering from chemical dependency and substance abuse.

The Buccaneer is on the west side of N.C. 12 at milepost 5 in Kitty Hawk. Built in 1958, the motel has rooms and suites.

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The center’s mission statement reads, “Through process-based individual and group therapeutic treatment, peer support and an emphasis on structure, we will provide a balance of physical, emotional and spiritual restoration to provide healthier habits and continued individual growth.”

The Council, following a Planning Board recommendation, cited a joint statement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Justice to justify the denial.

Under federal law, towns are mandated to make reasonable accommodations for those protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The joint statement concludes that it is not considered a reasonable accommodation if a proposal fundamentally alters the zoning scheme.

But attorney Crouse Gray on behalf of the Briggmans argued that the text amendment didn’t meet those criteria to justify denial.

“The beach hotel district is the most intense land use permitted in the town,” Crouse said. “People have the right to have a therapeutic facility somewhere within the town.”

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He added that under federal law, “I could put up a group home right next to your house and there isn’t a thing you could do about it. But this type of facility as a conditional use gives the town control.”

The proposed center would be licensed by the state and be a temporary residence for up to 16 clients who would commit to the program for one to three months.

The center’s mission statement reads, “Through process-based individual and group therapeutic treatment, peer support and an emphasis on structure, we will provide a balance of physical, emotional and spiritual restoration to provide healthier habits and continued individual growth.”

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Currently, the motel can host more than 100 guests at any one time, David Briggman said, adding that the police have had to be called for drug- and alcohol-related crimes. But that wouldn’t be the case with the center, where residents would be supervised around the clock, have to pass a background check before admission and submit to regular drug screenings.

Sandy Briggman told the council the center hoped to set up a scholarship program for county residents who needed the treatment but couldn’t afford it and would encourage families to participate in their loved one’s recovery.

Terry Johnson, like many who spoke in opposition to the text amendment, said she was afraid of the center’s impact on tourism and the surrounding neighborhood. “This may be sending the wrong message to our visitors and just maybe people won’t come back,” she said.

Other residents, many who live near the Buccaneer or own nearby businesses, echoed Johnson’s sentiments. Romona Tice, owner of John’s Drive-In, voiced concern about the many establishments within a mile radius of the motel where alcohol could be purchased.

But a handful of audience members gave powerful speeches in favor of the Briggmans and their proposal. One was the Briggman’s son, Evan.

He told the council that he has been sober from an alcohol addiction for one year, one month and 10 days. He underwent detox for a week before entering a treatment facility much like the one his parents were proposing.

“It saved my life. I could be dead right now, but I’m not. I am standing up here before you. I don’t know much about zoning, but this is the best thing I can put my name behind. And what better way to help the town. It’s not another Wings, not another restaurant or tourist trap. It can and will help future generations.”

Scott Morton of Kill Devil Hills urged the council to approve the text amendment so the project could move forward.

“I think we can all look in our own families and see someone who could be helped by a facility like this. These people would be paying and dedicated to their recovery. To me, that’s better than a group of drunks on motorcycles in the community or young kids running around the beach with drugs.

Patrick Shay of Southern Shores said the council had “the golden opportunity” to be the change the Outer Banks needs. “It starts here. The proposal is a solution. It may not work but they are trying. They see the problem and the want to do something about it,” he said.

And Steve Rhoads, a pastor and former law enforcement chaplain, spoke in favor of the project: “It’s time to get our heads out of the sand and be part of the solution rather than the problem. This is an opportunity for Kitty Hawk to be part of the solution.”

The motel is in a beach hotel district, one of three areas zoned as such within the town.

The nearby Charlie’s Family RV Park submitted a petition to the town this summer with 140 signatures of seasonal residents who opposed the text amendment.

“It hurts to vote against this project,” said Councilman Ervin Bateman, who told meeting attendants on Tuesday that he has been in recovery for 26 years. “But I can’t support it in this area. I took an oath and I have no other recourse than to vote against it,” he said, citing the overwhelming majority of residents who had come out against the proposal.

“Do we need something in Dare County? We sure do,” said Mayor Pro Tem Craig Garriss. “I see people in need of help every day with no place to go. But I can’t approve this zoning change.”

Mayor Gary Perry, who asked for a show of hands from audience members to gauge support for the proposal, made the motion to deny the application, citing that the zoning change would affect not only the district where the Buccaneer is in, but the other two beach hotel districts in town as well.


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