Permit dispute stalls living center work

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, November 20, 2011

Progress on the construction of an assistedliving facility in downtown Brookhaven has stalled following thedeveloper’s attempts to receive a building permit that city andstate regulations do not allow him to have.

    Developer Gayle Evans of Franklin County held a groundbreakingceremony on May 27 of this year for what he then projected would bean approximately $7 million assisted living facility with thecapability to house 71 occupants. At the time, Evans saidconstruction would begin in three weeks.

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    Nearly six months later, no construction of any kind has occurredon the lot owned by Evans on East Monticello Street across from theInez Hotel.

    Evans and city officials agree as to the cause of the delay: Thecity has not issued a building permit allowing construction on thesite. A city ordinance requires such a permit before any work canbegin.

    That is where explanations begin to diverge.

    “We’re waiting for Mr. Evans to get the proper permits,” said MayorLes Bumgarner.

    Evans described the situation differently, stating he is the onedoing the waiting.

    “I’ve got everything approved, but the city won’t issue me a permitto get started,” Evans said when contacted last week.

    Evans said there is no reason for the city to withhold thepermit.

    City officials differ, holding that building permits can only beissued to contractors licensed by the state.

    “We don’t issue those permits to owners,” said building inspectorChip Gennaro, who must approve building permits. “Only a licensedcontractor can receive the permit. But Mr. Evans wants us to issuethe permit directly to him.”

    City Attorney Joe Fernald further explained the city’s stance whenasked about the issue.

    “He (Evans) was advised that his contractor had to come in to getthe permit,” Fernald said. “The city’s building code requires citybuilding permits be issued to state-licensed contractors.”

    But Evans insists the city has no grounds to create regulationsdenying him a permit.

    “They’re wrong,” Evans said, referring to statements by cityofficials.

    According to Evans, he is the primary contractor on the projectorand can therefore receive the permit.

    Evans emphasized he has built similar facilities throughout thestate: two in Natchez, one in Vicksburg, one in Durant, one inHattiesburg and one in McComb. He also built in the 1970s what isnow Countrybrook Living Center in Brookhaven.

    Evans said he has always built these facilities as the primarycontractor and had no problems receiving the necessary permits.

    However, Evans makes no claim to be a state-licensed contractor anda search of the Mississippi State Board of Contractors’ onlinedirectory confirms Evans does not personally possess a license.

    According to records on file with the Mississippi Secretary ofState, Evans is the registered agent and president of a corporationcalled Sea Breeze. Sea Breeze does not appear in records as alicensed contractor, either.

    According to an interview with a representative of the state boardof contractors, the legal requirements are clear.

    Mississippi state law mandates all primary contractors andsubcontractors on projects costing more than $50,000 be licensed bythe state.

    Cities may also require further qualifications for the issuance ofbuilding permits, said Dayna Johnson, a licensing director with thestate board.

    “We don’t cover city building permits,” Johnson said. “Cities maketheir own regulations.”

    Johnson explained that cities may, for example, lower the monetarythreshold required for a license below $50,000.

    When asked about the relevant legal statutes and statements byJohnson, Evans responded by referring inquiries to the Brookhavenoffice of the state Department of Revenue.

    According to Evans, representatives of the Department of Revenuetold him he may receive the permit, though the Department ofRevenue has no regulatory authority over contractors orpermitting.

    Evans said he has no intention of signing with a licensedcontractor in order to move the project forward, citing financialmotivations.

    “What I do, I can build them more economical because I cut out themiddle man,” Evans said.

    Evans mentioned his corporation Sea Breeze, but said he has nointention to involve it in the project or to have Sea Breezelicensed as a contractor.

    I keep it (Sea Breeze) active, but I’m not using it,” Evans said.”Then you’ve got to get insurance, and you’re responsible for a lotof stuff.”

    Evans’ efforts to erect an assisted living facility in Brookhavenhave been tumultuous throughout the process.

    Notably, Evans sought and received a variance from a city ordinancecapping building height in the central business district at 55feet. Plans called for Evans’ facility to reach 66 feet.

    Evans also had to receive an exception to a ban on first floorresidency in the central business district, as his facility wasplanned to have seven in-patient therapy rooms on the firstfloor.

    This latter exception proved particularly controversial, but waseventually granted.

    Evans was scheduled to appear before the city board at its Nov. 15meeting but canceled that appearance. When asked, Evans did notstate a reason for the cancellation and simply said he intends tocome before the board “in the next couple weeks.”

    Evans plans to continue as the primary contractor on the projectand stated no intention to receive a state license.

    “That’s the way it’s going to be or I’m not going to build,” hesaid.