‘Please pass this:’ Contentions occur at council meeting around potential Warthen Center sale

This mailbox outside the Ted Warthen Center still has their former tenants' information - Platinum Care - stuck to the side. Many neighbors hope that, after the Ted Warthen Center sells the building, that it may be occupied by a similar business. | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The city council meeting on Nov. 5 grew contentious after Sandia Hyer and Judy Whitlow, members of the Warthen Center board, were invited to the podium to discuss their proposal to change the zoning of their property at 2046 N. Tuweap Drive.

“Please pass this,” Hyer pled with the mayor and council as she stepped up to the podium. “We want to sell this property as soon as possible. I just can’t understand the wait.”

From 2002 to 2008, the building housed the Ted Warthen Center, whose mission is to provide a home-like atmosphere for the terminally ill. To that end, local auto salesman John Edward “Ted” Warthen, for whom the center is named, gave $800,000 to the cause in 1998. The property is currently zoned residential, but the board sought to change the zoning to planned development, administrative professional, before selling the property.

“We’ve been trying to get this done since February,” Hyer told St. George News. “The way I see it, once we sell the property, we’ll be able to give more money to the people who need it. The building is really just costing us at this point, with insurance, maintenance and repairs.”

The building has sat vacant since December of 2018 when Platinum Care left their home of 10 years. Once sold, Hyer said the board intends to put the money into a fund that will accrue interest so they can get more money into the hands of terminally ill people and their families. While it may sound pretty straightforward, there are people in the neighborhood who were concerned about what kinds of businesses may occupy and develop the property.

“There’s language in the proposal that says the building may be used for offices or medical research,” Wayne Peterson, a retired lawyer who attended the meeting, said. “While we’d be happy to welcome another end-of-life care facility into the neighborhood, we don’t want to see increased traffic, noise or poisoned lab mice running around.”

This building, located at 2046 Tuweap Drive, once housed the Ted Warthen Center. | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Though Peterson stood up during the meeting to discuss his concerns, Mayor Jon Pike reminded him that they were not in a public hearing, therefore members in the audience were not invited to voice their concerns. Pike pointed out that there had already been a public hearing, during which time neighbors had already spoken.

“It feels a little too fast,” Peterson told St. George News Saturday. “It seems like Platinum Care, who leased the building from the Warthen Center, was asked to leave unexpectedly and with little time to relocate the patients they had at the time. That’s what fired us up.”

Peterson said most people in the neighborhood would be fine if another end-of-life facility moved in, but he hoped to avoid certain kinds of development.

“Under the new zoning, the buyer could potentially move in and build a four- to five-story building,” Peterson said. “This has a real impact on us, as well as the broader community, which is growing so fast.”

Peterson suggested the move from residential to planned development zoning would increase the property’s value, and that parting with the building may be a betrayal of Warthen’s dying wish.

Hyer dismissed this notion, claiming that the move would simply make more funds available to those who need it.

“We used to dispense money that we earned from the lease to people,” Hyer said. “But the building’s been unoccupied for nearly two years. If we can get the money from the sale into the right fund, with a good interest rate, we’ll be able to help more people, and in more significant ways.”

An array of forgotten birdfeeders found on a chair outside the former Ted Warthen Center building, which once housed up to 16 patients. | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Among them, Hyer said that the Warthen Center has helped people secure in-home nursing care. They’ve helped the mother of a dying child, whose frequent crying prevented the mother from sleeping, to find and pay for childcare. And they’ve helped to buy supplies, such as wheelchairs.

“We began with the idea that we could help the people who fell through the cracks,” Judy Whitlow said. “People who have no other means of support. And we intend to keep doing that.”

“We’re going to keep this legacy alive,” Hyer said. “We’re going to continue our overall purpose of caring for the terminally ill. We’re going to continue the legacy of coming together to serve those who need it. This sale will provide us with the resources to fulfill our mission even better than before.”

Back at the council meeting, there was some discussion around the potential uses allowed by the rezoning. Councilwoman Danielle Larkin shared the concerns of the neighborhood, as she and Councilman Jimmie Hughes visited Peterson back in February to see how development may affect the neighborhood.

“I felt the neighbors’ concern around having another company come in with little-to-no restrictions on use,” Larkin said Monday via phone. “It feels really important that the potential use is very specific, a center of care, for adults or children.”

After asking that office and medical research be removed from the proposal’s list of potential uses, the council made a motion to approve, which passed unanimously.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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