Request to operate children’s home fails in tie vote

Published 1:07 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2024

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NATCHEZ—The fate of a request by the owner of the former Natchez Children’s Home is still in limbo after the planning commission held a special hearing on the matter on June 6.

Bishop Stanley Searcy of New Hope Mission Baptist Church, which owns the building at 806 N. Union St., has applied to the city to re-establish the grandfathered-in use of the building as a children’s home.

A hearing was first set for May 16 but could not be held because a quorum of the members of the planning commission was not present.

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The planning commission is a nine-member board. However, one seat, which Deborah Martin of Natchez held for many years, has been vacant since her retirement from the board during the first quarter of the calendar year.

Before the May 16 meeting, Bishop Stanley Searcy said as a representative of the church, he requested the hearing “just to see what is going on. It has always been a children’s home. Since before the Civil War, it has been a children’s home. We have Dr. (Tina) Bruce there just waiting to find out what’s going on.”

Natchez businesswoman Dr. Tina Bruce leased the building from the church and used it as a crisis stabilization unit for troubled children beginning in January 2023. However, neighbors questioned whether Bruce’s business went through the proper approval process. Frankie Legaux, city planner, said Bruce never applied for a special exception to operate her facility, and it closed.

At Thursday night’s meeting, Charles Stuart, the church’s attorney, said the church wanted to operate the facility again as a home for children. Stuart nor Searcy would answer directly the question of whether Dr. Bruce, who did not attend the meeting, would be involved in its operation if approved.

One commission member moved to approve the request to operate a children’s home in the building again. However, the motion died for lack of a second.

Another motion was made to deny the request, which did receive a second. However, the vote ended in a four-to-four tie. Because the motion failed to carry a majority of members, it failed.

Legaux said the commission has requested what steps, if any, are necessary.

“If the request comes back before the planning commission, we will advertise that meeting,” Legaux said.