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Inaction leaves Leighton shelter idea in limbo

Leighton Place

Someone enters the front door of an old building at 5th Street and Leighton in Anniston which has been proposed as a homeless shelter. The Anniston City Council took no action on the proposal Tuesday. Built in 1922, the building opened in 1923 as a hospital. In subsequent decades it's also been a hotel and a nursing home.

A plan to set up a homeless shelter in a former nursing home on Leighton Avenue hit a snag Tuesday, after neighbors of the proposed shelter showed up at a City Council meeting to oppose the plan. 

Council members were set to vote Tuesday to accept donation of the 85-bed facility, once known as Beckwood Manor, from Noland Health — but that proposal died for lack of a second. 

“We’ve still got to figure things out on this issue,” Mayor Jack Draper said. 

Council members announced last month that Noland, the current owner of the former Beckwood Manor, had offered to give the city the nursing home for free. The move came after long talks between Noland and city leaders, who hoped to lease the nursing home to a coalition of local nonprofits to set up a shelter that would also provide services to put homeless people back on their feet. The United Way, Interfaith Ministries and the Right Place received a $300,000 state grant last year to set up just such a facility. 

In a public hearing Tuesday, residents of Council Ward 3, where the proposed shelter would be located, either opposed the plan outright or said the city was moving too fast. 

“Tell me how this is going to benefit us, the people who live in Ward 3,” said Anniston resident Ralph Bradford. “Is it going to add to my property value?”

Scott Brightwell said he lives within sight of the former Beckwood Manor. He urged council members to think out the proposal before making a decision.

“I think a shelter — and I’m going to say it, literally in my back yard — that requires even a modest fee to stay, would create a panhandling problem in my neighborhood,” he said. 

Shelter proponents said the city is in dire need of a shelter. Oxford resident Wanda Champion reminded the council that a man was found dead in an abandoned downtown building just two weeks ago during the area’s annual homeless count. 

“Anybody, within a paycheck, can become homeless,” Champion said. “Anybody with a mental breakdown disorder can become homeless.”

Critics of the plan, though, seemed to outnumber proponents. Ward 3 residents said the Leighton Avenue location would likely lead to homeless people crossing a busy Quintard Avenue to get to downtown. City officials have said they expect to get all the furniture and other equipment from the former nursing home from Noland, but some critics, citing old equipment such as window-unit air conditioners, questioned whether the city could accept the building without incurring costs.

“It’ll be an albatross,” said Anniston resident Tim Brunson. 

Ward 3 Councilman Ben Little said he was opposed to the plan, noting that as councilman for the neighborhood, he should have been brought into the planning for the shelter. 

“I do not intend to have another homeless shelter in Ward 3 on Leighton Avenue,” Little said. “Take it to Golden Springs.”

Later in the meeting — after the public hearing was concluded — Draper asked the council members their wishes on the donation of the nursing home. Councilman Jay Jenkins made a motion to consider accepting the gift, but no one seconded it. Draper, after the meeting, said the measure could come before the council again as soon as late Februrary.

Draper and Ward 4 Councilwoman Millie Harris each said they didn’t second the motion because they believed the proposal needs more discussion.

“I think people need more information on this,” Harris said. 

Council members did vote unanimously Tuesday to redirect $330,000 in federal grant money to a plan to rehabilitate Glen Addie Community Center. In recent meetings, council members had discussed a plan to turn the center into a warming center for the homeless. 

The council also broke its deadlock on a proposal to buy a lot in the 1400 block of Glen Addie Avenue for in the hopes of attracting a developer to the site. The council last year rejected that same plan. 

The council bought the property in a tax auction and in 2017 sold it to family members of the original owner for $350. Tuesday’s action will require the city to buy it back for $17,000. 

“We’re going to tear the building down to the slab and we’re going to build a mini-mart,” Little said of the purchase.

Others on the council maintained the purchase didn’t make sense. 

 “We sold the property two years ago for $350 and now we’re being asked to buy it for $17,000,” said Harris. 

The council voted 3-2 Tuesday to buy the property. The swing vote came from Jenkins, who said he’d reconsidered and decided the property, near a proposed extension of the Ladiga Trail, would be a good purchase. 

In other news, the council:

— Voted to send some of the city’s captured stray animals to Pell City’s animal shelter. City officials say they’re on pace to overspend their $50,000 animal care budget for the year because the county animal shelter charges $150 per animal. Pell City charges $90 per animal, city officials said. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.