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City blocks ICE from opening intake office

ICE facility is next to an OB-GYN practice owned by Pardee Hospital. The barbed wire topped fence can be seen background. ICE facility is next to an OB-GYN practice owned by Pardee Hospital. The barbed wire topped fence can be seen background.

Local government and Pardee Hospital officials are stepping up efforts to block federal immigration officials from opening an intake facility across the road from the hospital and next to a women's medical office.

Henderson County Manager Steve Wyatt, Sheriff Charlie McDonald, City Manager Bo Ferguson, Pardee chief financial officer Alan House and Michele Cassone, the leader of the Hendersonville Elks Lodge, spoke in a telephone conference call last week with federal officials from three different agencies and conveyed their concerns about the ICE facility, at the corner of U.S. 64 and Justice Street in Hendersonville.
Icefence1The building, its rear section now bordered by an eight-foot fence topped by three strands of barbed wire, has been leased by the federal Government Services Administration (GSA) for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency under the Department of Homeland Security as an intake facility, local officials say. The building is owned by a corporation based in Charlotte, Sharon Alexander, the attorney for Pardee Hospital, told trustees during a meeting Wednesday.
"We expressed our concerns" in the call to the federal officials, House told the Pardee board. "Bo did an outstanding job describing the complexities he sees with the zoning."
City officials, who granted a zoning permit based on an application that described plans to use the building as an office, now say an inspection has led them to block a certificate of occupancy.
"We found a room that appeared to be for interviewing and detention" of suspected violators of immigration laws, Ferguson said in an interview. "They would need to clarify how they intend to use the building. At this point they are not going to get a C.O. until we get clarification" about the use.
Even if it can get past the city's now heightened sensitivity to what looks like a jail facility covering a half block across from the county-owned hospital, ICE faces the hurdle of restrictive covenants, which regulate what can go on the land. ICE officials could not be reached after hours Wednesday night to respond to the questions raised by Pardee and city officials.
"All of those people who own or do business are governed by restrictive covenants," House told the Pardee trustees. "The purpose was to try to continue that professional image" of the property as home to law and medical offices.
Pardee CEO Jay Kirby suggested that the restrictive covenants could be the trump card that prevents ICE from opening the facility.
"We feel good about the covenants we have and we want to take a strong position for the physicians that have invested in that area," he said.
The 1978 covenants declare that the property "will be used exclusively as professional offices." Further, they say that the restrictions are intended to maintain "excellence in land use, site design, and building design" and to make the development "as a whole an amenity to their professions, their colleagues, the public, the city of Hendersonville and the environment."
In comments he made during a Board of Commissioners meeting on May 16, House pointed out that the ICE building is next to an OB-GYN practice and the prison-like fence "is almost within reach from our property."
"It violates common sense and patient safety to have pregnant women and their children who are visiting their physician to be subjected to such a facility and to be exposed within feet to individuals that require barb wire to be contained and/or restrained."

House and Ferguson said that they offered during the call with federal officials to help find another location for an intake and detention facility for suspected ICE violators.
House said that Wyatt, the county manager, had told him on Wednesday that he expected the federal officials to communicate with the city manager since the city has the authority over the zoning. Ferguson said he had heard nothing since the call last Thursday.
"What we need is the zoning compliance and right now they don't have it," he said.