Veterans home progress halted
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG  Banner Staff Writer and Joyanna Love Banner Senior Staff Writer
Nov 13, 2013 | 1722 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print

A decision by State of Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management has brought progress on the Cleveland/Bradley County State Veterans Home to a halt.

Local officials have said they hope it is only a temporary one.

What started out as a routine committee report at Tuesday’s Bradley County Commission work session quickly escalated into a full discussion of the future of the proposed veterans home.

Seventh District Commissioner Mark Hall said he had received a call about the status of the Cleveland/Bradley County State Veterans Home the night before — after he and other commissioners had attended Veterans Day celebrations earlier in the day.

Hall, who is also co-chair of the committee working to get the home built, said the call was to advise him the donated property on which the veterans home was to be built was suddenly disapproved after months of working to ready the site for construction.

“Disappointment and shock are probably an understatement,” Hall said.

He explained that, for reasons he was not immediately aware of, everything had come to a halt.

Larry McDaris, director of veterans services for the county, spoke to the Commission, said he had merely “heard it through the grapevine” that the site had been rejected.

“This came as a complete surprise,” McDaris said. “We had no indication that a disapproval was in the works.”

McDaris said a lot of time and money had been given to the project already, and he had more questions than answers.

He told the Commission he wondered about a variety of things, including whether or not the work already done would turn out to be in vain.

For example, environmental testing had already been underway, and an architect had already been asked to start the design process.

Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said he was “very frustrated” to learn the news because he had been led to believe that everything had been going smoothly before the disapproval.

He said he was given four concerns, including the grade of the land and the cost to expand Kile Lane, as explanations of the decision.

“All these things were not big deals,” Davis said, adding he believed the concerns were already being addressed.

The Bradley County Commission said it would be discussing the possibility of appealing the state’s decision at its next voting session.

The surprising news was also discussed at the Cleveland City Council meeting Tuesday.

Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said he sent a text message to Council members over the weekend letting them know of the latest development.

Rowland said he had been notified on Friday by state Rep. Kevin Brooks.

“The same situation apparently happened in Clarksville at a proposed veterans home up there,” Rowland said.

Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder contacted the city mayor soon after she found out.

“I asked Commissioner Grinder what are the primary issues they had,” Rowland said.

He told the Council one of the major issues is that dirt banks would have to be removed to build the proposed facility.

“I don’t see a problem with that, because I think they can be taken down. They didn’t think they could,” Rowland said. “Her last comment to me was they are going to do a GIS [geographic information systems] study and immediately begin searching for new property in Cleveland/Bradley County. The disappointment is that a local businessman donated that property. It’s a disappointment to them as well.”

Rowland said Brooks is looking into the appeals process for the decision.

He said representatives from the state had been to the site previously and had not suggested it might not be approved.

Outside the meeting on the same day, Yvette Martinez, assistant commissioner of outreach and communications for the Tennessee Office of Veterans Affairs, shared some responses to the local concerns.

She said her office had just recently been notified by the State of Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management that it would not move forward with the proposed veterans home site.

“We’re not the ones who evaluate the land,” Martinez said. “As soon as we knew is when we called the mayors.”

She said there were four major concerns about the property that led to its disapproval — the same four Davis mentioned in the Bradley County Commission meeting earlier in the day.

The first was that the vertical grade was not conducive to building a one-story facility like other state veterans homes.

Another was that the costs associated with the home, including expanding the roads near it, would be too high.

She said visibility from the road was also a concern.

Finally, the STREAM office ruled that “the highest and best use” of the property was as a residential area. Martinez said a new site would likely need to be a commercial property.

She added that, while the news may have come as a shock to the county, the state Office of Veterans Affairs is still interested in seeing the project come to fruition.

“This is something that Bradley County has been committed to for 10 years,” Martinez said. “We’re not trying to take time away from Bradley County. We want to work with them.”

Representatives from the state veterans home board will be present at the local veterans home council meeting, Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the issue further.