Jefferson Parish Council members Marion Edwards, left, and Ricky Templet, right, talk during a council meeting in Gretna on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune)

A plan to transform the Manhattan Athletic Club in Harvey into a drug rehabilitation center appears to be off the table after Jefferson Parish Council member Marion Edwards said he will withdraw his support for the necessary zoning change after significant community backlash.

Edwards, who represents the council district where the club is located, said he will "cancel" a scheduled vote at the council's June 14 meeting to change the property's zoning from a commercial designation to a hospital designation, a shift that would have allowed the rehabilitation program to prescribe medications, after the plan faced opposition from nearby neighborhoods.

“I disagree with them but I think their fears were legitimate and I realized there was nothing I was going to say that would alleviate those fears," Edwards said of opponents. A former state judge who spearheaded the parish's first drug court, Edwards added, "I don't think they realize how desperately we need a rehab facility for these young people."

Gym to rehab facility

Bill Boada, general manager for the Manhattan Athletic Club, had proposed donating his building, located on Manhattan Boulevard, to Giving Hope NOLA, a nonprofit group that would hire Louisiana Adult and Teen Challenge, an established faith-based drug and alcohol rehab program, to run its programming.

They would outfit the facility to house up to 60 people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction, Boada told community members at a meeting in May at Stonebridge Golf Club in Gretna.

Boada said that the club was too expensive to maintain as a gym and that he wanted to put the building to good use. He had offered to work out an agreement that would allow locals to keep using the club’s pool, one of its most popular amenities.

But at the Stonebridge meeting, and a later one held at the public library in Harvey, residents loudly pushed back against the drug rehabilitation facility, despite assurances from Edwards, Boada and others that the program would treat people who wanted to be treated.

Boada did not immediately respond to inquiries on Tuesday about his plans for the club now that zoning will likely remain the same. 

Unclear definitions

The residential opposition to the drug rehab facility comes as the Parish Council has also created a homeless task force that will determine if a homeless shelter and treatment center in the parish would be effective in reducing the growing homeless population.  

Some people grew concerned that the task force, which was spearheaded by Council member Deano Bonano, would determine where such a facility would be located.

At a last-minute Parish Council meeting a few weeks ago, a resolution offered by Council member Ricky Templet called for a study of the definitions and regulations of assisted living facilities, homeless shelters, transitional housing and other forms of group living under the parish Unified Development Code and Code of Ordinances.

In some cases assisted living facilities and housing for the elderly were treated as one entity but are defined differently in zoning ordinances and municipal code, said Bessie Martin, director of planning for Jefferson Parish.

Martin said the vague definitions often left matters up to interpretation.

“We currently have stronger laws for Airbnbs than homeless shelters or drug rehabs,” Templet said.

Short term rentals in Jefferson Parish are only allowed in specific zoning districts.