Developer seeks senior facility progress

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The developer of an embattled downtown project spoke to city aldermen Tuesday night in an effort to clear roadblocks to progress.

     Gayle Evans, of Franklin County, has proposed to build an assisted living facility on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Monticello Street, across from the Inez Hotel. He blamed Brookhaven officials for holding up the facility.

     “The medical board, the state of Mississippi has approved this,” Evans said. “Brookhaven is the one holding us up.”

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     A building permit remains the sticking point in the project, as it was last fall when aldermen discussed the issue. Evans cannot build on site unless issued a permit by the city.

     Building Inspector Chip Gennaro said he will not issue the permit unless the person or corporation undertaking the construction submits a copy of a general contractor’s license and a certificate of responsibility.

     Chance Evans, son of Gayle Evans, said Sea Breeze, a corporation of which his father is the president, holds the necessary license. He proffered a document from the Secretary of State’s website purporting to prove this.

     However, the state Board of Contractors hosts an online database of individuals and corporations currently holding valid licenses. Sea Breeze does not appear in that database as of Wednesday morning, and neither does Gayle Evans or Chance Evans. If Sea Breeze holds a license, the database does not reflect that.

     The Mississippi Secretary of State hosts an online database of registered corporations in the state. Sea Breeze does appear in that database, but the documents on file do not indicate anything about the corporation other than its officers.

     In the meeting, Gennaro said if Sea Breeze does hold the required documents, copies should be sent to his office.

     “I never said they don’t have what they need, just that I haven’t seen it,” Gennaro said.

     According to regulations enacted by the state Board of Contractors, no contractor may work on a public project exceeding $50,000 or a private project exceeding $100,000 unless licensed by the state board and in possession of a certificate of responsibility. As proposed by Gayle Evans, the assisted living facility would carry a $7 million price tag.

     City Attorney Joe Fernald emphasized that no permit will be issued unless the proper documents are on file with the building inspector’s office.

     “We will do what is legally required,” Chance Evans replied.

     Chance Evans also asked aldermen whether the city will supply water and sewer services to the property.

     “We don’t feel it’s our responsibility to supply sewer and water to the property,” he said.

     Mayor Les Bumgarner said once water lines are on the property, the city will connect it to utility lines if the required connection fees are paid.

     “We’ll do for you what we would do for anyone else,” Bumgarner said.

     The city will not be doing anything until a building has been constructed on the site, Bumgarner added.

     Followed the exit of the elder Evans and his son, another animated exchange followed when city resident Roy Smith tried to address the board.

     Copies of the meeting agendas say no party may appear before the board unless listed on the agenda, and that to appear on the agenda someone must ask by noon on Thursday preceding a board meeting.

     However, Bumgarner said he had rejected Smith’s request to speak to the board. Bumgarner said Smith’s proposal to speak on economic development was vague.

     Instead, Bumgarner asked for board members to volunteer to sit on a committee and hear any proposals Smith had.

     Smith had previously been denied an appearance by the board due to pending litigation he had filed with the city. That suit has since been dropped and Smith believed he would then be allowed to speak.

     Though he did not appear on the agenda, Smith and aldermen continued to interact about the issue for close to the five minutes speakers are allowed.

     At one point, Bumgarner suggested a further reason to deny Smith.

     “You more or less want to get up here and give a lecture and call us racist,” Bumgarner said.

     Ward Five’s D.W. Maxwell chimed in.

     “Every time you are allowed to do this, you put the city down,” Maxwell said.

     Smith said the board’s refusal to hear him just because they didn’t like what he had to say was itself evidence of “institutional racism.”

     Maxwell, Ward One’s Dorsey Cameron and Ward Two’s Terry Bates agreed to form a committee and hear Smith.