HCA Healthcare
May 09, 2019

AUTHOR: Keona Gardner

LUCIE COUNTY — The pleas of dozens of residents were not enough to stop the advancement of 220-bed addiction treatment center Atlantic Wellness on South Hutchinson Island.

The County Commission, in a 5-0 vote Tuesday, approved rezoning 22 acres from residential to planned non-residential development to allow the construction of $87 million addiction treatment center.

Artist rendering of the Atlantic Wellness Center (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ATLANTIC WELLNESS CENTER)

More than 100 people attended Tuesday's 6-hour-plus meeting, with 33 people signing up to speak, urging the commission to deny the project because its usage was out of character for the mostly residential area, could increase traffic and decrease property values.

The facility, which would treat adults and teens diagnosed with eating disorders, and drug and alcohol addictions, would be located on State Road A1A, south of Frederick Douglass Memorial Park and north of Middle Cove Beach. About 5 acres of the property would be developed, with 17 acres remaining undeveloped as wetlands.

"I think they are bringing in a world-class facility, and you have worked with staff to make sure you are not disturbing the integrity of the island," County Commission chairwoman Linda Bartz said. 

The area in red is the location of the proposed $80 million Atlantic Wellness Center, a 222-bed addiction treatment center on South Hutchinson Island in unincorporated St. Lucie County. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ATLANTIC WELLNESS CENTER)

The average length of stay for a patient would range between 45 and 60 days, facility officials said. Patients would be prohibited from having cars, and visitor access will be limited. The facility would not accept court-ordered patients.

“We want to be a world-class facility, certainly for the U.S., but even for the world,” said Dr. Scott Seagal, a Miami-area, board-certified psychiatrist who treats adults and adolescents, and would manage the facility.

The facility would provide 216 jobs, county records showed, and excluding physicians, average yearly salaries would be $50,800.

The facility has received letters of support from Sheriff Ken Mascara; Indian River State College President Ed Massey; Pete Tesch, president of the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County; St. Lucie Chamber of Commerce; and the owners of Sunset Beach, the closest residential community to the facility.

Allowing the facility to be built would be akin to moving the 229-bed St. Lucie Medical Center on the island, said attorney Harold Melville, who represented several homeowners’ association.

“I understand there is a need for these types of facilities,” Melville said. “It’s not a bad facility or a good facility. It is just a bad location.”

The Atlantic Wellness Center is a proposed $80 million alcohol- and drug-treatment center proposed for South Hutchinson Island. (Photo: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/SAM YATES)

Resident Mary Duckworth said allowing the facility would pave the way for more non-residential development on the island.

“What kind of precedent does that set for future development?” Duckworth said.

Resident Russ Knowles said he is finally building his dream house on the island and it is less than a mile north of the facility.

“So, our dream of 40 years is turning into a nightmare,” Knowles said. “I don’t mean to be selfish, and I respect what the doctor is trying to do … I don’t think we need this type of development on the island.”

County Commissioner Cathy Townsend said she supported the facility because the owners would pay property taxes to lighten the tax burden from homeowners.

"Emotionally speaking, I would like to say, 'No,' to this facility to support you," Townsend said to residents, "but I have to see the bigger picture."