The Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission voted to approve the site plan Thursday for Knox County's Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center.
The facility, long known as as the "safety center," would provide treatment for non-violent offenders in Knox County dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues.
"We think there's a benefit to the city and the community as a whole," said Jerry Vagnier, President and CEO of Helen Ross McNabb, which would operate the facility.
Commissioners made one key change to the site plan, at a former church at 3343 Dewine Rd. -- moving the entrance to the center from Dewine Road. to Ball Camp Pike. That moves it further away from some homes in the area.
The expansion into the former church would be next door to Helen Ross McNabb's current Centerpointe treatment facility. Proponents say the convenience of the location is a selling point, but those opposed say Centerpointe is evidence that their neighborhood is doing enough to combat addiction. They would like to see the project built in a business park
"We want to be clear, we disagree with the location, not Helen Ross McNabb," said John Zimmerman, who lives nearby.
Neighbors have expressed concern in the past about the center being located in a residential area -- and the relocated entrance rang hollow for Zimmerman.
"Our community is very disappointed in the decision today," he told 10News after the meeting. "We are going to appeal it and go before the city council."
That appeal is one of two major remaining hurdles for the project. The second is contract approval by the Knox Co. Commission.
Helen Ross McNabb Center representatives at the MPC meeting said they have worked hard to communicate with the community around the behavioral health center in order to make neighbors feel safe. So far they have hosted two public comment meetings.
"We're going to set up some meetings with those with concerns and make sure they're satisfied," said Vagnier.
Helen Ross McNabb will partner with the Knox County Sheriff's Office to address security. They plan to have a deputy on site at all times as a response to safety concerns by neighbors. They also assued the MPC that deputies would conduct all transport to and from the facility.
Knox Co. has put away $1.2 million for the project, with a $200,000 budget allotment. They are also banking on $4.5 million spread over three years from the state. That money depends on the Governor's proposed budget being approved.
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