Aldermen give blessing to living facility

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 17, 2008

The debate over a proposed downtown assisted living facilityappears to be over after aldermen voted unanimously Tuesday toapprove the builder’s proposal.

The discussion of whether developer Gayle Evans should beallowed to put an assisted living facility on the corner ofWhitworth and Monticello streets has gone on since early February.The issue has garnered interest from local citizens and businessowners, with issues such as parking, location and appearance beingdiscussed.

Mayor Bob Massengill, upon bringing up the issue, said hethought it was time to give Evans an answer one way or anotherafter the months of delay.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We’ve met several times and discussed this at length, and we’renot making a snap decision,” Massengill said. “Mr. Evans, I feel,deserves an answer so he can move forward or move on.”

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron saidhe had voiced misgivings inthe past about the proposed facility. However, he has since gone toNatchez to look at another facility built by Evans and wasimpressed.

Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell said he had been “bombarded” bycalls against having assisted living in the proposed location, withmany people raising questions about safety concerns. Maxwell saidwith his limited knowledge of safety standards set by the state, hewas uncomfortable going forward with a vote.

He said he felt he had not had adequate time to speak with FireChief Bob Watts or Fire Inspector Andre Spiller, but Massengillsaid he had already had talks with them.

Massengill said that in addition to the fact that Evans said hewill be taking measures to make the facility fireproof, it willhave a flat roof. Therefore, if residents cannot go down staircasesor elevators in case of fire, they can go to the roof.

“It’s not the best scenario, but we could get them down,” hesaid.

Alderman at-large Les Bumgarner, who has stated concerns that itmight not be hard to bring nursing home facilities into theassisted living setup, asked if there was a possibility that adementia wing or anything resembling nursing home amenities wouldbe added at any time. Massengill assured him that there is no wayto add a nursing home in the downtown business district unless theboard rezones the downtown.

Downtown building owner Johnny Perkins appeared before the boardearlier in the meeting with a list of suggestions includingminimizing traffic disruption during construction. Bumgarner askedif the city is capable of fulfilling that request.

Massengill said the city will be working with constructionefforts to keep traffic blockage down.

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates said he thought there needed to bemore time for consideration.

“With a building that large, we don’t need to rush,” he said.”Is there any way we can see some plans?”

Massengill reminded him that he had seen a floor plan, and thatall the board had seen was a picture of the facade.

Maxwell then said he’d had constituents tell him they wereafraid to voice concerns with the assisted living facility.

“People are afraid to speak out on this, because they don’t wantto seem like they’re against assisted living,” Maxwell said.

Ward Three Alderwoman Mary Wilson told Maxwell that simplybecause there was opposition to the location did not mean there wasnot support.

“For as many people who oppose this, you’ve got just as many whoare for it,” she said.

In spite of Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes’ motion on thefloor that the board approve Evans’ request, Maxwell moved to tablethe discussion again.

Upon a review of rules of order, Maxwell’s motion tookprecedence over the previous motion and therefore had to beaddressed first.

The vote to table the discussion tied with Estes, Wilson andCameron voting against it, and Maxwell, Bumgarner and Bates votingfor it. Massengill broke the tie by saying the discussion would notbe put off any longer.

After a little more discussion, the board voted unanimously toapprove Evans’ request. Some aldermen added the ironic aspect ofthe discussion was that they were not certain Evans if everactually had to ask their permission to move forward with theproject.

Estes said some concerns about a multi-story assisted livingfacility are unfounded.

“Assisted living in a multi-story environment is not new,” shesaid. “This is done all over the country, and I’m certain in otherplaces in Mississippi as well.”