Athens Review, Athens, Texas

March 20, 2013

Rehab gets another chance

Athens Council will look at zoning change

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens —   The proponents of a veterans rehabilitation center to be constructed inside shell of the old Henderson County Memorial Hospital, will get another shot at a zoning change before the Athens City Council on Monday.

  Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said the item was discussed in a workshop on Wednesday and a public hearing and first reading of an ordinance on the issue is expected to appear on the March 25 agenda. Babit LLC is requesting that the property at 405 Lindsey Street be rezoned from office to multi-family residential to allow the company to move on with the project.

   Kevin Hambrick, owner of Babit LLC estimates that the center will cost from $6 million to $8 million to build. The plan is house veterans of wars dating back to the Korean Conflict. Ultimately the population could swell to about 300. Hambrick appeared before the council at a workshop February 20 and explained the project.

  The city council took up Babit’s zoning request at its next regular meeting on February 25. Rather than rubber stamp the issue  some members of the council, in addition to several nearby residents and business owners, expressed concern about issues including how the facility is being classified, parking and safety.  Vaught told the council he is excited about the project, but that he would recommend the site be zoned only for specific use, rather than the multi-family designation. Vaught said he was concerned if the property was zoned as multi-family, it  which would leave the site open for various types of construction projects should the veterans center plan fall through.

  The request to rezone the property from office to Multi-Family Residential-5 was revisited at the Zoning Commission Meeting Tuesday.  According to the city zoning ordinance, Multi-Family 5 requires that the property be designed to provide for the development of single-family residences on lots not less than 5,000 square feet.

  The Memorial Hospital was built in 1948, and closed following the construction of East Texas Medical Center. In 2007, the county paid more than $100,000 to have asbestos removed from the structure, a prerequisite to demolition. Hambrick said at the Feb. 20 meeting that the building is now free of and the structure of the building is surprisingly sound.