The site for a new 150-bed Pioneer Manor has been rezoned, but not without continuing sentiment that the site isn’t the best one for a nursing home.
The City Council approved the rezoning of the old recreation center in a 5-2 vote Monday night — the same vote as in its previous two readings.
Many seniors piled into the council chambers to make their final plea, either for or against the change, and to listen to the final vote. The discussions were the same that had cropped up in previous debates.
The council chambers emptied out after Mayor Tom Murphy pounded the gavel, the discussions spilling over into City Hall’s lobby.
Elfriede Conrad, who lives at the Cottonwood Apartments and volunteers at Pioneer Manor, was worried about the traffic on South Douglas Highway and the danger it could pose.
People will wander because they don’t want to give up their independence and they get confused, she said. There are a lot of attractions across the street that could draw them away. Conrad said after the meeting that she didn’t agree with how this issue was brought forward.
“I just think that it was very unfair that everybody was swayed because of the board, the hospital board speaking,” Conrad said. “The majority of people have no say in it. ... But they don’t want to come because they know it’s already decided.”
Bonnie Tranel supported the decision. Her daughter has lived at Pioneer Manor for 11 years, and she visits her daily. She often pushes her daughter’s wheelchair outside — something she said would be even better at the new site because it is next to Lasting Legacy Park.
“We have that beautiful park. I would love to push my daughter in that park and watch the kids play,” Tranel said.
A rezoning case
The city stood by its premise that it was considering a zoning change and had no say over the location for a nursing home. That decision was made by other hospital trustees, Mayor Tom Murphy said.
Some citizens argued that the criteria has not been met for the property to have a zoning change because nothing about the property has changed since it was rezoned to C-1 in 2010.
County Commissioner Dan Coolidge said the criteria was met because the county got a potential buyer with a potential use for the site.
“It’s pretty simple,” Coolidge said.
Murphy said the city follows the policy that if a landowner has a potential buyer for property, then the council shouldn’t prohibit a rezoning to hinder a sale as long as it sees no problem with the zoning in that particular area.
The city has not been able to find information that would suggest that a C-0 next to a C-1 is a bad move. The city has multiple situations in which the two zones are adjacent, City Administrator Carter Napier said.
That logic of the petition being seen as strictly a question of rezoning swayed multiple votes in its favor.
The hospital can now begin plans for the facility, but the size of the new manor may determine whether it goes before the Planning Commission again, City Engineering Director Dustin Hamilton said.
If the new nursing home is 25,000 square feet or larger, then it would require a development plan, which requires approval from the Planning Commission. If it’s smaller, then it’s a commercial site and would be approved by city staff. The Planning Commission is the approval body for development plans and it will not go before the council again, Hamilton said.
The hospital doesn’t yet know how large the facility will be. The designer will plan about 150 rooms, which will dictate the size, hospital spokeswoman Karen Clarke said.
Councilman John Opseth: The list of pros and cons has nothing to do with zoning. “This property was rezoned two years ago. I’m not convinced that it’s time to rezone it again. That’s my opinion and I’ve heard the opinion of many people in Gillette that are against it.”
Councilman Kevin McGrath: “I agree it’s only a zoning, but we all know what’s going to go there. So, the people that spoke to me do not want it.” He also pointed out that the city just embarked on a $37,000 senior, medical neighborhood study. He believed the rezoning request was putting the cart before the horse and a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Councilman Everett Boss: “It is a rezoning issue, and that’s what we have to try to keep focused as a council. ... I think it’s going to be a great place for our community, and our community is always moving forward. I see this as nothing but a positive.” He anticipates that the study will show that Gillette will need another nursing home in the future. “What’s better than go and tear that down, get it ready and prep for the future?”
Councilman Ted Jerred: “I’m looking at it as a zoning issue. They’ve tried two years at C-1 and couldn’t find anything (any) use for that property.” He doesn’t see any problem with a C-0 and what could be built on that site.
Councilwoman Louise Carter-King: “My first reaction was that it was not the best place for it.” But since hearing the different sides, she believes hospital trustees did their due diligence. “I think having a beautiful new building there is good for everyone in that area and the city as a whole.” The beautiful area is also a positive.
Councilman Robin Kuntz: “I was on the fence last time. It’s just a tough decision. ... The hospital did their job.” Kuntz suggested that the governing entities meet more often to discuss future plans.
Mayor Tom Murphy: He asked only that the administrators of the city’s governing bodies keeps the greater good of the Gillette community in mind in the future.