Milton officials have agreed to reschedule a public hearing on a controversial rezoning request after members of the applicant’s team were infected with COVID-19.
Milton Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance setting the public hearing date for Monday, Sept. 28, and then taking another 35 days to make a decision on Monday, Nov. 2.
John Paradee, attorney for applicant Phoenix RCHS Holdings, said at an Aug. 3 council meeting that members of the team that would make the presentation on behalf of the rezoning had tested positive for COVID-19, with at least one having had to be hospitalized. He said that has hampered his team’s ability to prepare for the hearing.
Phoenix RCHS Holdings has proposed building two medical office buildings on a nearly 8-acre site on Mulberry Street across from H.O. Brittingham Elementary School. One of the buildings would be occupied by Beebe Healthcare to conduct outpatient services. To expedite building the facilities, Phoenix RCHS Holdings has requested to rezone the parcel from R-1 residential to C-1 commercial.
The proposal was reviewed by Milton Planning and Zoning Commission, which recommended not rezoning the parcel.
Town Council had the option of making Phoenix RCHS Holdings go forward with its presentation right then and there at council’s Aug. 3 meeting. But council, led by Councilman Sam Garde, agreed that the best course of action for both the applicant and the community was to allow Phoenix RCHS Holdings to make its presentation in full.
Town Manager Kristy Rogers said Sept. 28 was the earliest date council could hold the meeting. Council normally would meet the first Monday of the month, but in the case of September, that is the Labor Day holiday. The town also has to coordinate meeting dates with Grace Church, where council has been holding meetings since June, and other Monday dates are not available, Rogers said.
Members of the public commented both on the ordinance setting a new date, and the project itself.
Mary Hudson, 406 Union St., said she agreed that there should be a complete record of the hearing, and to do so, Phoenix RCHS Holdings needs to bring traffic impact and water impact studies to the table.
“It would be entirely incomplete and also reprehensible to change the zone without having a complete record,” she said.
The effect on traffic on Mulberry Street near the proposed site has been a major source of concern for nearby residents, especially given the property’s close proximity to a school. Citizens also raised concerns that all documents would be submitted before Sept. 28 so the public will be able to comment on them. Town Solicitor Seth Thompson said council has the option of leaving the record open should anything new come in that the public has not had the chance to comment on.
Most of those who spoke were opposed to the project.
David Krasnoff, 502 Union St., said, “It’s a great project. But it does not belong in town.”
Norm Cohen, 338 Union St., said, “This has been going on since January. What’s changed about their proposal since it went to planning and zoning? I understand someone is ill, but has anything really changed or is there a study underway right now that creates the reason they can’t do it?”
Robert Fogel, 405 Union St., said he supported the project and that council should hold a full review and make a decision on the merits.
After citizens asked whether someone from Beebe would be on hand to address the project, Paradee was asked by Mayor Ted Kanakos whether a Beebe representative would be at the Sept. 28 hearing. Paradee said someone from Beebe would be there, as well as experts on traffic and stormwater management.
When questioned by citizens on why it seemed like he was delaying, Paradee said he was not trying to delay and that it was Phoenix RCHS Holdings’ desire to hold the hearing as soon as possible.