by Josh Lanier

HUNTERSVILLE – Monteith Place homeowners told commissioners they are organized, angry and ready to fight plans for a 66-bed behavioral health hospital to be built next to their N.C. 115 neighborhood.

In a matter of weeks, the number of outspoken residents has grown from a handful to dozens, and homeowners said more neighbors are joining the cause after each public discussion. More than 50 showed up en masse to confront Huntersville commissioners and Carolina’s Healthcare officials at a public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 17 – overflowing the town board’s chamber and spilling out into the hallway.

“The more people find out about this plan, the more people are speaking out against it,” Monteith Place homeowner Keith Jung said after the meeting. “I just hope the commissioners take what we’re saying to them and really think about it when they make their decision.”

Mayor Jill Swain promised the crowd their comments and concerns were being heard as commissioners consider their decisions.

Commissioners are expected to vote Feb. 6 on the hospital’s rezoning request. Carolina’s Medical Center plans to build a $33 million inpatient and outpatient facility there to bolster the region’s dire need for mental health hospitals. Neighbors fear for their safety because of the increased traffic and the types of patients that will be housed at the hospital.

Carolinas Healthcare System has made some concessions to try to ease their fears including adding a 6-foot high wall between the property and Monteith Place homes, and increasing the number of plants to act as a natural buffer. But hospital leaders have asked the town for concessions as well, like reducing the amount of required distance between their property and homes from 80 feet to 40 feet.

Jennifer Eckert, a Monteith Place homeowner, asked commissioners to be strong willed if they had to approve the rezoning request. She asked leaders to fully enforce the 80-foot buffer and remove the outpatient facility.

Eckert also asked that Carolinas Healthcare System promise in writing not to treat drug addicts, sex offenders or violent criminals. Hospital officials didn’t respond to her, but it seems unlikely they could meet those expectations.

Monteith Place homeowners were hit hard during the recession of 2008-09 as construction on new homes in the neighborhood nearly dried up and a number of standing homes were foreclosed on. In recent months however, the neighborhood has seen a flurry of new homes going up and demand for existing homes increase, several said.

They fear the hospital could hurt that trend.

Christopher Miller, who is only days away from closing on a home in Monteith Place said had he known about the hospital’s placement, he would have looked elsewhere.

“As I learn more about this,” he said. “I get disgusted. … I welcome this hospital in our community but not in my backyard.”

What’s next?

The Huntersville Planning Board will hear plans for the hospital at its 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24, meeting at Town Hall, 101 Huntersville-Concord Road. That meeting is open to the public.