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Commissioners approve psychiatric hospital site

The outcry was business-like yet earnest, showing that what’s in a name can matter.

Developers and landowners took aim Wednesday at a 50-bed psychiatric hospital/prison proposed for a barren 10-acre patch in a north valley industrial area.

They implored Clark County commissioners to deny the state’s request to rezone the land for the proposed 65,000-square-foot center or at least put off voting long enough for the state to find another site.

A mental hospital that houses prisoners would lower property values and discourage development in what is the last major cluster of affordable industrial tracts in the valley, opponents argued.

"This project is necessary, but we feel this is not the right place," attorney Jay Brown said.

The area already has Summit View Youth Correctional Center and a county jail, so adding this facility would create a "prison town," said Brown, echoing a town board member who opposed the project. "This is not the normal case of ‘not in my back yard.’"

Commissioner Tom Collins disagreed.

"The hell it ain’t," Collins said. "It’s a NIMBY."

Collins joined four commissioners in approving the project at Ann and Sloan roads, near the north end of Nellis Air Force Base. Commissioner Chip Maxfield voted ‘no’ to give opponents more time to voice concerns, and Commissioner Bruce Woodbury was absent.

Because of the estimated $32 million cost, the center, which has been in the works for a decade, probably won’t be built for years, state officials said.

Hoolihan’s Excavating, based in Henderson, owns the land and is selling it to the state at a price yet to be determined.

Tom Thomas, who co-owns 100 acres nearby, said his biggest qualm is having the center referred to as a prison. Companies would be hesitant to build next to a site they feel is unsafe, Thomas said. "It’s a hot button."

When the project was first being reviewed, it was given the more innocuous label of "forensics hospital," he said.

A change in rules required "prison" to be included in the title of a hospital that houses people who have been charged with a crime, even if they haven’t been convicted, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said.

The hospital’s purpose is to restore defendants’ mental competence enough for them to grasp the charges they face, explained Judge Jackie Glass. Offenses range from misdemeanors to felonies, Glass said. She noted that some defendants are a threat to themselves and others.

Those who are diagnosed as mentally incompetent are flown to Lakes Crossing Center near Reno, where they undergo treatment, Glass said. "We desperately need this facility in Clark County."

An industrial area that’s away from neighborhoods is the ideal spot for the hospital, advocates say.

Continuing to scout for another parcel is pointless, said Pamela Wilcox, administrator for the Division of State Lands.

"After an extensive search, we are confident we have found the best site for the public."

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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