Rezoning recommendation for assisted-living facility sent to aldermen

Published 12:12 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

NATCHEZ — After several long, awkward pauses in which members were hesitant to make a motion, the Natchez Planning Commission voted Monday to reissue a 2009 recommendation to rezone a parcel of land near the Glenwood Subdivision.

The 3.64-acre tract abuts the subdivision and has frontage on John R. Junkin Drive. The property’s owner, Gayle Evans, requested the property be rezoned from single-family residential to a special use district in order to build an assisted-living facility on the site.

Evans has owned the property since the 1970s and developed the Glenburney Nursing Home and the Adams County Nursing Center on the neighboring tracts.

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Attorney Rusty Jenkins represented Evans at the meeting and said that when Evans bought the property it was zoned as the equivalent to what is today known as a special use district.

When the city’s zoning maps were updated in 2007, a scrivener’s error marked the property as being zoned for single-family dwellings, Jenkins said.

The maps were approved by the aldermen at the time, however, and became legally binding, something Jenkins said Evans only found when he went to the planning department in 2009 to seek permits to move forward with the housing project.

Former City Planner Rusty Lewis applied to correct the maps at that time, but the board of aldermen denied the planner’s request.

Residents of the Glenwood subdivision spoke against the renewed request Monday, citing concerns about heightened traffic into the neighborhood and the fact that the proposed building for the property will be three stories tall and would affect the aesthetics and property value of their neighborhood.

But architect Johnny Waycaster — who also spoke on behalf of Evans at Monday’s meeting — said the property would have never been zoned for single-family dwellings if the planning commission was creating zoning in the area today.

“The city made a mistake that this neighborhood benefited from, and they are holding onto it,” Waycaster said. “The city made a mistake that took the property rights from the owner.”

Speaking on behalf of those who live in the neighborhood, Sonny Gwin — who is an attorney — argued that the aldermen’s 2009 rejection of the rezoning application is still binding, saying Evans had 10 days from the initial decision to appeal it.

“By never appealing, that makes that order final and binding — just like an order in court — and once it becomes final, then nobody can set that aside on the basis of a mistake or something,” Gwin said.

Planning Commissioner Butch Johnson responded that Evans was not the person who filed the 2009 appeal, and after examining the planning code the commissioners stated that 12 months after an appeal is denied it can be reconsidered.

Glenwood resident and attorney Scott Slover expressed concern that the commission might make a recommendation without seeking the advice of the city’s legal counsel, something Johnson said made him feel uncomfortable.

“I think for you to make a recommendation one way or the other is not a fair thing for you to do, because I don’t see you represented by counsel, you haven’t found out what you can do,” Slover said.

During the course of the meeting commission member Linda Futrell made a motion to deny the request, but it died for a lack of a second. Johnson eventually made a motion to reaffirm the commission’s 2009 recommendation to rezone the property for special use, which passed 5-1-1, with Futrell voting against it and Deborah Martin abstaining.

The recommendation will now to go the board of aldermen, which will determine if the property will be rezoned.

The commission tabled a request to review the site plan for the proposed assisted living facility, with commissioners saying they could not approve a site plan until the zoning issue has been resolved.