A plan to put a molecular lab at the site of a former west Carrollton high school is no longer moving forward.
Dr. Brent Harris, a physician and owner of the US MedClinic, proposed converting the former George Washington Carver High School to a molecular lab to test COVID-19 samples and related work. But Harris received pushback from surrounding community leaders, some of whom were concerned over the safety of the neighborhood, while others wanted the former segregation-era school preserved as a historic structure.
To use the property as a lab, Harris would have had to have it rezoned from to office use from multi-family. A request for the Carrollton City Council to rezone the property was pushed back to June so that the city’s planning and zoning commission could first review it in May.
On Tuesday night, Harris announced on Facebook he would withdraw his rezoning application. This was shortly after the Carroll County NAACP organization hosted a teleconference meeting inviting residents to ask questions and share their concerns about Harris’ plans.
This meeting resulted in participants pledging to petition city officials and the planning and zoning commission with emails and letters urging them to vote against any rezoning.
“We now know with certainty the local community would prefer for the building to be used as an assisted living facility, or sit unused,” Harris posted on Facebook. “With the current multi-family zoning designation, a community business incubator, event center or scientific research facility will not be possible or welcomed into the area. Sorry, Carrollton. We are big dreamers and that area is not ready for our dream.”
The Carrollton Planning and Zoning Commission had been scheduled to hear the proposal on May 12. Following its decision, the city council would take final action on the plans in June.
Harris earlier had said the diagnostics lab would not accept patients. It would have received tests for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and analyze blood samples from suspected cases.
Harris bought the building, located at 302 Martin Luther King Jr. St., from the LaGrange-based Community Action for Improvement nonprofit in 2019. The former high school was a black-only school during the segregation era from 1954-1968.
During the NAACP teleconference, some residents asked if the facility could be converted to an assisted living facility. Carolyn Gray, a Carver High graduate and the school’s historian, proposed applying for a national historic designation for the building.
Harris, who has already purchased the building, told the Times-Georgian on Tuesday night prior to his Facebook announcement that he was considering applying for a national historic site designation, which would make the property eligible for state and federal tax incentives.
He added he is unsure whether he wants to put the lab in another building elsewhere in Carrollton.
The property is located in a district of west Carrollton where surrounding buildings are zoned multi-family, according to a 2018 zoning map of the City of Carrollton, and Harris said an assisted living facility is possible for the facility.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Administered by the National Park Service, the register helps identify, evaluate and protect historic resources.
“I think Dr. Harris should reconsider what the property means to the black community,” Gray told the newspaper on Wednesday. “He doesn’t have any obligation to us, but as a resident of the city and county, he should have an ounce of respect for black people.
“I don’t think he withdrew his application because he doesn’t want to do it. I think he withdrew it because he didn’t want to deal with the hassle. He still owns the building, so this will not go away.”