M’hall blocks Boswell group homes

By MARLAN JONES,

The Mendenhall Mayor and Board of Aldermen recently decided to put a stop to a building project in the city that will possibly cost the city $5,000 in restitution.

During the April 2 meeting the board discussed a group home being built by Anthony Kohen on 519 Oak Street. 

Kohen said that the facility was being built with the intention of being inhabited by clients of Boswell Regional Center.

Kohen followed the procedures of the city and received a building permit from Mendenhall’s building inspector David Miller. The permits were perceived to have been issued prematurely by several members of the Board of Aldermen.

Miller addressed the Board and said he went through the proper procedures before issuing the permit. He said he asked the proper questions before issuing the permit and stated that everything was in accordance with the zoning regulation.

The property lies within an R1 district, which constitutes single family dwellings. Miller said his research showed that group homes can be constructed in residential districts. He specified that no more than eight people could reside in the home and did not have to be related by blood. Miller said the final question he pondered before issuing the permit was whether the group home would have a negative effect on the city. Miller believed Kohen met all of the requirements, and felt that his construction would not have a negative effect on the city. Booth aligned with Miller and confirmed he followed the zoning guidelines. Miller said there was nothing in the building codes that said Kohen needed to go before the Zoning Board.

Alderman Tim Gray said it should have been a special use project, and that the permit should have been issued by the Zoning Board. Gray said a Central Mississippi Planning and Development representative agreed that the permit should have been issued by the Zoning Board. Gray believed the city missed a step in the process and believed Kohen should go through the process.

Donnie Thomas agreed and said, “People who live in that area should be able to come and speak their piece because if it was being built next to me I wouldn’t want it.” Gray moved that Kohen stop production until the project was heard before the  city Zoning Board. The motion passed with a majority vote with only Alderwoman Sandra Weeks Stein being opposed.

Liability issues on behalf of the city were discussed during the meeting.  Kohen was well into the building process when the board decided to stop production. He estimated that he had invested approximately $8,000 into the project at this point.

A special meeting was called the morning of April 4 to discuss the city’s options. Booth informed the board that Kohen asked about being reimbursed for a portion of the loss he would take on the project. Booth explained that the project was originally scheduled to be finished in June, and by stopping production and essentially restarting the process Kohen would fail to meet his deadline.

Board Attorney Wesley Broadhead instructed that the request be put in writing to be discussed with the board. Booth suggested that the city offer Kohen $5,000 to put the issue to rest. Booth said, “The more we stir this the worse it’s going to stink.”

Gray questioned whether the city could legally pay someone off to drop a project. Broadhead said the city can pay money to get something of value and to pay for a mistake. Broadhead used the example of paying for a windshield or tire due to the city being at fault. Broadhead said, “The man detrimentally relied on the city before beginning the project.” The liability was shown to be true on behalf of the city. Broadhead did not believe the city could legally stop Kohen from building, and presented the board with options. The options were to pay Kohen restitution or reverse the decision made at the April 2 Board meeting. Broadhead believed paying restitution to be legal since the Board had a written claim from Kohen. After more discussion Gray moved to pay the restitution in the amount of $5,000 if it was deemed legal. The motion passed with a majority vote. Alderman Donnie Thomas was opposed.

Alderwoman Janna Miller said, “It’s not a thing against the group home. We just want to make sure we’re doing everything in the legal way.” Johnny Gregory lives in the area where Kohen was building the facility. He attended both meetings concerning the facility, and had strong feelings about introducing this type of facility to the community. Gregory said, “The board and people have no idea what a Boswell group home is. It forever changes the complexion of your community.” He referenced the impact that group homes have had on Magee. He believed citizens should have been informed before the project was underway. Gregory revealed that he tried to buy the lot from Kohen several weeks ago, but a deal was never worked out. The board agreed to pay, but the decision fell to Kohen to accept the boards offer.

Booth confirmed that Kohen accepted the city’s offer of $5,000 in restitution for pulling the plug on the project.

 

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