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Knox planning commission approves zoning change to turn South High Senior Living into a drug rehab center

The change came after people who live at South High worried they would lose their housing.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County leaders approved changes to two senior living facilities owned by longtime developer Rick Dover this week. 

The Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission voted to approve a zoning change, allowing the McNabb Center to buy South High and turn it into a drug rehab center. 

South High Senior Living is currently an assisted living facility in South Knoxville near Dogwood Elementary School. 

"I thought I'd be here forever, but the building's up for sale," said Jon Timmerman, the 'Mayor of South High.' "If I would've known it would be turned over in a couple of years, I would have looked somewhere else." 

The McNabb Center said it would be able to serve 1,500 more people a year with the additional beds the center would get from purchasing South High. 

Knoxville-Knox County Planning staff recommended commissioners not approve the re-zoning, but the planning commission overrode their recommendation. 

In North Knoxville, the Knox County Industrial Development Board removed a provision from the contract he had with the board, requiring him to lease apartments to people age 62 and older. 

Knox High was pitched as an independent senior living facility with services for seniors. Dover said the only change is now he can't find the staff to serve meals to the people who live at South High on a daily basis. 

"It's an apartment building," Dover said. "We chose to operate it in a fashion that would be appealing to seniors. That's all we've ever promised to do." 

Dover said he asked for the 62-plus provision in the contract because he was applying for a federal grant, which he did not receive. 

When asked, Dover said about 40% of the people who currently live in Knox High are seniors. 

"It was always intended to be apartments, with services geared for mostly older adults," Dover said. 

The Knox County Commission approved a PILOT for the redevelopment of Knox High, essentially a break in property taxes over a period of time, as part of the agreement to re-develop Knox High into a senior living facility. 

"County commission approved the 15-year PILOT for this project to cover a gap in financing," Dover said. "The age component didn't have anything to do with it." 

The McNabb Center said it is under contract with Dover to purchase South High. They hope to close the sale by June. The Knoxville City Council will have to bless the sale. 

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