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ICE landlord appeals permit denial

The landlord for the Homeland Security Department has appealed the Hendersonville city zoning administrator's denial of an occupancy permit, sending the dispute to a Zoning Board of Adjustment hearing on Sept. 18.

The 4,724-square-foot building at the corner of Justice Street and Sixth Avenue has been remodeled for use by Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Neighboring property owners, including Pardee Hospital and the Elks Club, have protested the use of the building as an ICE office after contractors erected an eight-foot fence topped with barbed wire.


On Wednesday, Pardee officials reiterated the hospital's opposition to use of the property for a law enforcement office.

"Our position is I'm sure those folks do good work and I'm sure they do needful work," said Pardee CEO Jay Kirby. "We'd just rather them do it somewhere else."

Alan House, Pardee's chief financial officer, has been assigned to take the lead in expressing the hospital's opposition. He said he plans to appear at the Board of Adjustment meeting next month where the C.O. appeal will be heard.
The Government Services Administration negotiated a long-term lease of the building with Wise Developments of Mount Airy, a company that has done GSA buildings across the Carolinas and the South.
City Zoning Administrator Susan Frady notified Wise on Aug. 6 that the city "is holding the certificate of occupancy" for the GSA property "as it appears to include a room intended for suspect processing or detention which was not outlined on the site plan approved by the city. The zoning compliance permit issued for this building was for offices only and did not include detention."
To obtain the C.O., the building owner "must either remove the detention/processing room so that the use is strictly office or apply for a change in zoning."
In an appeal filed on Aug. 15, Wise Developments attorney Brian Gulden said the use complies with the MIC (Medical Institutional Cultural) zoning, and that the city zoning officer had approved the use in February 2011.
"The building will consist of several offices as well as several large open office areas to be used as a waiting room, interview room and other such areas," wrote Gulden, who is with an Asheville law firm.

'Nothing wrong with building'
E.D. Bray Jr., one of the owners of Wise Developments, said that the building does not pose a threat.
"I went up there last week to look at it. There's nothing wrong with the building," he said. "I couldn't figure out what their hang-up is," he said. "It's just office space is all it is. If it was a detention center it would have bars, wouldn't it? The architect worked with the government and they send plans to the city."
The contractor, Blue Ridge Enterprises, did send plans to the city. Plans do not show a detention center.
Bray, who owns a house on Lake Summit and visits Hendersonville frequently, said he had driven around town recently and noticed lots of vacant office space, indicating that the town should be happy to have new tenants.
"They made that corner look 100 percent better" with remodeling, repaving and other work, he said.
A contractor hired by Wise began renovating the building last October. The work drew the attention of nearby tenants when the contractor erected an eight-foot chain link fence. Among the neighbors within a block are Pardee Hospital, a women's clinic and the Elks pool. Several of the neighbors protested the use of the property as an office for ICE, which enforces immigration law.
"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," Pardee's chief financial officer, Alan House, told Henderson County commissioners during a meeting on May 16.
Wise Developments bought the property in July 2010 for $750,000, tax records show; it's assessed for tax purposes at $686,000.
The GSA announced a bid process for an ICE office in Hendersonville. "They particularly wanted that location," Bray said. He said since he knew the area, he found the building and negotiated the purchase himself. Asked whether the GSA might reverse course and find a different location, he said he hoped not, "not when you've got a couple million dollars in it."
Wise Developments has done similar work elsewhere without raising a fuss.
"We did one down in Greer that's Homeland Security," he said. "We didn't have any trouble."