Commission Approves Bartlett Senior Facility

By Bill Dries

If an expansion of an assisted-living facility at Baylor and Brunswick roads stays on schedule with votes next month by the Memphis City Council, the planned development should win final approval less than a month before the area it is in is annexed by the city of Bartlett.

Bartlett aldermen are voting on the ordinance this month that will annex the area in the Bartlett reserve area at the end of December.

Nevertheless, Shelby County Commissioners approved the planned development Monday, Nov. 5, after Bartlett leaders urged the commission to delay approval.

The assisted-living facility that now houses eight people would expand under the planned development to take in 18 senior citizens.

“We have respect for Bartlett,” said attorney Ricky E. Wilkins, attorney for Mary Louise Knight, one of the owners of the facility. “We see no reason to have Bartlett become the decisive factor.”

Bartlett Chief Administrative Officer Mark Brown cited covenants on the land, which prohibit its use for commercial purposes. Residential zoning permits up to eight people in such a facility.

“All of the conditions we haven’t come to an agreement on,” Brown told the commission about talks in recent days with the applicant.

But commission chairman Mike Ritz said the commission is not an arbiter or enforcer of such covenants.

“I would like us to allow this process to go through Bartlett,” said commissioner Chris Thomas.

Commissioner Wyatt Bunker said neighbors who oppose the expansion have a legitimate concern about a commercial property in what is now a residential area.

But other commissioners pointed out there is commercial development on the borders of the area.

“I don’t want to hear about tradition,” commissioner James Harvey said as he argued against consideration for Bartlett of an area that will soon be within the borders of Bartlett. “I want to hear about what makes sense.”

“I just don’t see the rationale of holding this up,” said commissioner Sidney Chism. “The system will take care of itself.”

In other action, commissioners voted down a wage theft ordinance on the first of three readings.

Normally that would mean the proposal doesn’t advance to second and third readings. But commission chairman Mike Ritz said after conferring with the county attorney’s office, he interprets the rule to mean it can advance to second and third readings.

“We all learned something today,” Ritz said of the development.

Several commissioners conferred with County Attorney Kelly Rayne later indicating the matter might not be settled.

The ordinance, proposed by commissioner Steve Mulroy, changed from the initial proposal to the version the commission considered Monday. Gone were provisions that would allow investigators with the county Office of Equal Opportunity Compliance to subpoena business records, hold a hearing and require mediation. A county attorney’s office legal opinion said none of those provisions were legal.

The “streamlined” version Mulroy offered Monday would treat a complaint that an employer didn’t pay minimum wage or overtime or was late paying employees the way building code violations are dealt with. A citation would be issued and an alleged violation could end up going before General Sessions Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter. Potter could go beyond the $50 maximum for violating a county ordinance.

“The teeth would come once it reaches General Sessions Court,” Mulroy said. “I don’t accept that these problems are insurmountable. I think we are better than that.”

Bunker, however, said state Labor Department investigators now handle such complaints.

“We’ve added another layer of government bureaucracy to the process,” he said as he talked of putting more barriers in the way of business owners.

“I can’t understand why a business person is afraid of any law you are not violating,” countered Chism.

Commissioner Henri Brooks argued that wage theft is not a new problem.

“This country was built on wage theft,” she said. “Let’s not be superficial about this thing.”

Several commissioners abstained including Steve Basar saying he might support it later if the business community gets behind it.

“I do think we need to show leadership in this area,” he said.

The county ordinance would cover the unincorporated county.

The Memphis City Council is considering a companion ordinance.