Athens Review, Athens, Texas

March 25, 2013

Old hospital zoning approved

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — The Athens City Council opened the door Monday for an assisted living and retirement housing facility to be constructed at the site of the old Henderson County Memorial Hospital.

The council approved a site plan for the property at 405 Linsey St., and also agreed to change its zoning designation from office to Multi-Family Residential-5, Specific Use Provision, but not before the owner Babit, LLC made adjustments to the request it originally brought before the council Feb. 25.

“What has changed my attitude about the whole thing is that the change  has been made by those applying for this zoning,” Councilman Aubrey Jones said. “According to the wording of the ordinance, at least 80 percent of the residents of this facility must be 55 years of age or older.”

The zoning ordinance passed Monday states that the city will grant Babit, LLC a Certificate of Occupancy until Babit, LLC, receives approval from  all federal, state and local authorities with jurisdiction over the property, includeing the Texas Department for Aging and Disability Services. The ordinance amending the zoning also states that the property shall not be used for a drug rehabilitation or mental-health facility.

On Feb. 25, Babit owner Kevin Hambrick requested that the zoning on the property be changed from office to Multi-Family 5. Hambrick outlined his plans to remodel the property into a $50,000 square-foot assisted-living facility for male and female military veterans. The request raised questions from city officials at the meeting, and several citizens in the audience.

City Administrator Pam Burton said the surrounding property owners had been given notice that the site was being rezoned as an assisted living facility before she was informed that it would be a facility for veterans.

Burton said she would prefer for the property to be rezoned with a specific-use permit attached. After a discussion, the council voted to return the matter to the Planning and Zoning Commission to add a specific use provision to the Multi-Family 5 designation.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the change on March 19, and sent it back to the city council. By the time  the matter came back before the council on Monday, plans to use the facility to house veterans had been scrapped.

Ron Boone of Boone and Boone Construction said now that the zoning hurdle cleared, demolition of the property can begin soon, and construction could get underway in about six months.

Hambrick, who was not present at the meeting Monday due to an injury, has estimated that the facility could eventually house up to 300 residents. The cost of gutting and rebuilding the structure that closed more than 25 years ago, and building the assisted living center will be $6 million to $7 million, Hambrick estimates.