by Katie Orlando

DAVIDSON – The behavioral healthcare hospital that Huntersville rejected earlier this year has found a home farther north in Mecklenburg County.

Carolinas HealthCare System announced Wednesday, May 9, that it will begin construction this summer on the 66-bed hospital in Davidson, east of Ramah Church Road on N.C. 73. The hospital will also include a 10,000-square-foot outpatient clinic and should open by the end of 2013.

CHS Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Roger Ray said he found enthusiastic support from the Lake Norman area.

“We all have an understanding that mental illness not only touches us as a community at large, but on a personal level,” Ray said.

The hospital will bring 150 jobs to the area, and Ray said other CHS hospitals have catalyzed development of spin-off businesses and vendor relationships.

Huntersville commissioners rejected a March 5 request to approve zoning for the behavioral hospital at the corner of Verhoeff Drive and N.C. 115.

The hospital is still awaiting state approval to shift permits to the new location. Huntersville’s Monteith Place residents opposed the hospital, but Davidson officials at least are happy to have it.

“On behalf of the citizens of Davidson, but I think on behalf of north Mecklenburg County, we are honored to have this new facility,” Davidson Mayor John Woods said.

CHS officials said they are also glad to build the hospital instead of adapting an existing building like they would have done in Huntersville.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to build this facility from scratch,” Ray said. “Truly, form can follow function.”

The property in Davidson will also not require any rezoning.

Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce President Bill Russell thanked CHS for its persistence in finding a site for the hospital in the area, “We want to thank the town of Davidson for embracing this facility, not just for your town, but for our entire community. … From this day forward, help is on its way.”

While the hospital will bring jobs and spin-off businesses, it will not add to Davidson’s commercial tax base or bring in profits for CHS.

“It will operate at a financial loss to CHS,” Ray said. “It is part of our mission, devotion to providing the best medical care.”

North Carolina has been short on mental health facilities since the state began downsizing state psychiatric hospitals in 2001.

Mecklenburg County does not have enough beds for behavioral health patients.

This new facility will help relieve that need and treat north Mecklenburg patients closer to home. CHS behavioral health specialist Dr. Tom Gettelman said the new hospital will aim to treat patients so they can return to their daily lives.

The local facility “allows for more convenient, easier access for family involvement, and promotes continued treatment in an outpatient capacity,” Gettelman said.

While Davidson officials and many citizens are excited about the hospital, the site’s future neighbors came out to the board’s Tuesday, May 15, meeting to express concern.

Allen White, whose property borders the hospital site, Chris Bradley and other River Run residents said they were concerned about implications for connectivity, taxes, safety and sewage, fire and police services.

CHS facilities management Vice President MaryBeth Kuzmanovitch said she would be setting up community meetings with concerned groups to answer any questions.

CHS’ purchase of the 23-acres off Hwy. 73 will put land to use that’s been waiting for development since before the recession.

Developer Frank Jacobus planned to build a 480-unit subdivision on what was known as the Davidson East property, 179 acres including the hospital parcel. CHS will purchase its 23 acres for $36 million from CommunityONE bank, which foreclosed on the property in 2009.

Davidson East has been the subject of zoning disputes and a lawsuit filed by the bank against Davidson in late 2011. The bank and the town have been struggling to reach a compromise on how to develop and zone the land. Davidson Town Manager Leamon Brice said he did not yet know how the sale would impact the ongoing lawsuit.