WILLIAMSON — If all goes as planned, a Williamson hotel this fall will become a drug abuse rehabilitation facility — a proposal that has been met with some resistance from the community.
The Housing Authority of Mingo County is in the process of buying the Sycamore Inn in downtown Williamson to convert it to Serenity Point, a 60-bed drug abuse rehabilitation center.
Housing authority director Belinda Harness said she hopes to close on the property by the end of the month and have the facility operational before the end of the year.
“Our goal is by the end of November that we will be up and running with all 60 units,” Harness said. “That is our goal, and we’re going to stick to it.”
Unlike a detoxification center, residents will come to Serenity Point once they are clean of drugs and medically cleared.
The facility will use the Celebrate Recovery model and operate as a peer-based rehabilitation center, which means the staff will be people who have been through a drug rehabilitation program in the past.
That has scared some people, Harness said.
“How they interpreted that was we were just going turn a bunch of people loose in the building that had a drug problem with no supervision or no guidance whatsoever, and that’s not what that means at all,” Harness said. “What a peer program means is that the people that you hire that are educated and are trained to run these types of facilities are also recovering addicts of some sort.
“So they’ve kind of been there, done that, but now are educated and trained to help other people be successful at this type of program.”
The facility will have staff and security on site at all times, she said.
Earlier this year, the previous Williamson City Council opposed the project. But there’s nothing the city can do to stop it, Harness said. At first, the housing authority planned to use a loan through the United States Department of Agriculture community facilities program. Because of the opposition, it will instead use private funding, Harness said.
“It never really mattered to us whether or not they supported us because it’s not a city of Williamson project — it’s a county project,” she said. “This facility is going to serve all of Mingo County and all of Southern West Virginia.”
Harness said the opposition has slowed down the project, though.
Mingo County has one of the highest prescription opioid death rates in the nation. And while opponents have argued the facility would bring addicts to the town, Harness said they’re already there, as evidenced by the city’s pill bottle- and needle-littered streets.
Harness said the area has at least two drug detox facilities. She said programs like those will feed the program at Williamson. Residents stay as long as they have to and have access to educational and job-training classes, she said.
The facility and program will be sustained through U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department vouchers. Residents will pay 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities, though most won’t have any income when they start, Harness said.
Mayor Charles Hatfield, who took office in July, is one of the rehabilitation facility’s vocal opponents. Among a slew of reasons, Hatfield said he doesn’t like the idea of the housing authority running a drug treatment facility. He said the facility is too large, and he doesn’t like that the center will not have medical staff on site.
“It’s no secret that I got elected because I oppose this thing,” Hatfield said. “I brought this up to the council when I heard about it.”
Hatfield said he’s not against having a drug treatment facility, but he doesn’t want it downtown and across the street from bars.
Hatfield’s issues with the facility also are economical. He said the city and county will lose out on tax dollars if the housing authority runs it as a nonprofit. A city-commissioned study done by West Virginia University graduate students said the city would lose out on about $40,000 in taxes if the inn becomes a nonprofit. Hatfield said he would rather the hotel stay in business and cater to the all-terrain vehicle riders who come to town for the Hatfield-McCoy Trails.
But Doyle Van Meter, president of LSR, the corporation that owns the hotel, said the tourism generated by the trails hasn’t been enough to sustain his hotel business.
“It’s one component of what would make the area successful, but it’s not enough in itself,” Van Meter said. “When they promoted the Hatfield-McCoy Trails, they promoted the fact that all these small businesses would be able to go in and make a go of it. A lot of small businesses went in, and they’ve since gone away because there’s not enough [business].”
The hotel closed in March, when the housing authority started leasing it, Van Meter said. Before that, its owners had been trying to sell it for five years, Van Meter said.
The inn was built in 1986, before Corridor G made traveling much easier, Van Meter said. Before then, workers from Charleston would often stay at the hotel.
“Progress is kind of a two-edged sword,” Van Meter said. “When you have people that come down from Charleston to work in this area, from other places, from anywhere, when the Corridor opened up, it made it so much easier. You could come down, be here in an hour and a half, work and go back home.”
Van Meter said for 2016, the city’s share of the hotel’s property was $4,680, and its business and occupation tax was $11,663. The hotel also paid $17,228 in occupancy tax, of which the city got half and the local convention and visitors bureau got half.
Van Meter said the tax money should be made up to the city by the other places in town where people rent rooms. There’s no way to know what the city will actually lose in tax revenue, he said.
Brian and April Maynard live across the railroad tracks from the hotel and said they want nothing to do with the drug treatment facility.
April said the town has a lot of drugs already, and she thinks anyone who comes to the facility would have easy access to drugs in the community. She said she also fears for her children, who play in the yard near the inn.
“I just feel like it’s not good for this town, especially because drugs are already so bad,” April said.
Since the project has been proposed, Harness said many people have asked why she wants to put it at the hotel. Harness said the location is right because it’s within five minutes of the area’s two hospitals and near the drug court, which will be working with the facility.
The hotel also requires little work — the housing authority is only doing cosmetic work and installing kitchenettes in each of the rooms, she said. With renovations and the cost of the hotel, the project will cost about $2 million, she said.
“It just made sense that this facility would be here because of all those reasons,” Harness said. “It wasn’t because we wanted to pick a place that would irritate people the most. It was because it just made sense, and we felt like it’s where it needed to be.”
Reach Lori Kersey at
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