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Natchez aldermen appealing judge’s decision against plans for refurbishing old hospital
from Staff Reports - NEWS
April 10, 2019 -

By John Mott Coffey

NATCHEZ, Miss. – The city board voted Tuesday to appeal a judge’s decision against the aldermen’s plans for a medical foundation to convert the old Natchez General Hospital into apartments.

There’s a separate but similar lawsuit decided by another judge, who ruled differently and dismissed Natchez residents’ legal challenge. In the two cases, about 50 or more people argue they would be adversely impacted by having the planned residential development in their northwest Natchez neighborhood.

The entangled legal disputes over the old hospital building’s use are on track to the Mississippi Supreme Court for it to resolve.

Natchez aldermen closed the public out of their discussions Tuesday about the litigation but voted 4-2 in open session to go to the high court. City attorney Bob Latham maintains Circuit Judge Debra Blackwell’s March decision against the board was wrong.

Blackwell ruled the aldermen last year acted unlawfully to give the city-owned structure to Magnolia Medical Foundation. However, Latham said the board has not actually taken final action on an agreement with Magnolia. Thus, there’s s no act by the board for the judge to rule was improperly taken, according to Latham.

Blackwell’s decision is the opposite of the other judge’s decision in the separate case, said attorney Paul Sullivan, who represents Natchez residents suing the city. He said Circuit Judge Lillie Blackmon Sanders recently dismissed their lawsuit, which alleges the board took unlawful steps to give the building to Magnolia Medical.

Sullivan said he’s appealing Sanders’ decision. He noted the two lawsuits will likely be consolidated into one by the state Supreme Court.
The Board of Aldermen last September voted 4-2 to have the 94-year-old building turned over to the Jackson-based foundation on the condition it renovates it as planned, does not seek tax-exempt status and pays property taxes. Magnolia presented plans in 2017 to spend $3.4 million for restoring the dilapidated building into 30 apartments for retirees.

Neighboring propertyowners have voiced opposition to the foundation’s acquisition of the building amid concerns apartments will foster more crime, cause street congestion and decrease the value of neighboring properties.

The protracted court fights over the property will continue delaying the building’s actual refurbishment. The city acquired the old hospital in 2013 after the previous owner defaulted on paying taxes. Built in 1925, it was Natchez’ main hospital until 1960.

Voting last year to give the building to Magnolia Medical were Aldermen Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, Billie Joe Frazier, Felicia Irving and Ben Davis. Aldermen Sarah Carter Smith and Dan Dillard voted against this. Smith and Dillard voted Tuesday against the board appealing Blackwell’s decision against the board. | © 2014 | All Rights Reserved
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