City rejects mental health facility despite regional needs after neighbors object

Published 8:11 am Thursday, October 10, 2019

Natchez officials unanimously denied a zoning request for a new mental health crisis center at 241 Lower Woodville Road during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

The facility would have been a branch of Southwest Mississippi Mental Health — a non-profit that has provided community behavioral health services in Adams, Amite, Claiborne, Franklin, Jefferson, Lawrence, Pike, Walthall and Wilkinson counties for more than 40 years, said Sherlene Vince, executive director.

Vince said the proposed center was incorrectly labeled a detox and rehabilitation center on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.

“A crisis stabilization unit is actually a long-term psychiatric hospital,” she said. “It is not a drug treatment program or detox unit and we are not able to treat anyone who has criminal charges.”

Planning and Zoning Director Rico Gianni said the Natchez Planning Commission unanimously denied a request to rezone the property from a neighborhood business to a general business during a September meeting. The request was then appealed to the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Gianni said the Planning Commission received multiple letters from city residents who were opposed to the center because of it being located in a residential neighborhood. Many of those objectors voiced their concerns during a public hearing Monday regarding the proposed facility.

Local attorney Scott Slover, representing Southwest Mississippi Mental Health, said the services are predominately funded through state grants from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, which places a limitation on where a crisis hospital can be located in Adams County.

“People have asked us are there any other buildings out there, and we are certainly open to it,” Slover said. “The only problem with relocating to other sites is they have a very small window. They are operating with a state grant, which prohibits them from putting any money into building a facility.

“They would have to find someone who owns a piece of property, would invest anywhere from half a million to $750,000 into the property and then would take some sort of lease payment over time to recoup the cost and make a profit. That is easier said than done.”

Slover said further that the facility would be the only one of its kind that could reasonably serve Natchez residents.

“If we don’t do it this would probably wind up somewhere in McComb, which is an hour away,” he said. “If we’re trying to give community-based treatment for Natchez, I don’t think we can do that in McComb. There are some objectors who say, ‘Well, these people are dangerous, and we don’t want them in our neighborhood.’ These people are in our neighborhood now and they are not getting treated for serious mental illnesses.”

Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith made a motion to uphold the Planning Commissions decision and it passed unanimously.

“I do obviously believe we need this facility in Natchez, but I also agree that there has to be a better place for it. It should not be in a neighborhood,” Smith said.