By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
OXFORD – Several landowners have joined a petition to have the Chancery Court to compel the City of Oxford to annex 160 acres of land that may be under consideration for a new hospital.
Beth and Bob King own much of the half-mile-square block surrounded on three sides by Oxford, which sits west of the existing Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi. They petitioned, along with their tenant, Catherine Babb, in February for the annexation. A hearing is set for the case in Chancery Court on April 3 at 9:30 a.m.
Oxford aldermen voted earlier this month not to contest the annexation.
Since then, six owners of smaller tracts within the block have added their names in support of the case: Loy B. Curtis, Memphis, Tenn.; Marilyn Franklin Innman, Oxford; Tiffany Mitchell Babb, Oxford; Steven Dennis Franklin, Murfreesboro, Ark.; Roger W. Williams (for Citizens Bank amp& Trust), Atlanta; and Elizabeth Catherine Mitchell Chen, Virginia Beach, Va.
Speculation continues that Baptist Memorial Health Care is considering the site for the new $250 million hospital contracted as part of its purchase of the existing hospital last summer.
Early last year, public outcry spurred the Memphis-based nonprofit to give up on building on a more remote site west of Oxford, and Baptist Chief Operating Officer Jason Little pledged that the new hospital would be within “current city limits.” City Attorney Pope Mallette advised aldermen to accept contract language that the hospital be built within city limits, leaving open the possibility of newly annexed land.
Baptist officials have declined to reiterate Little’s “current city limits” pledge.
“Last year, Baptist worked with the city and county to produce a memorandum of understanding contract stating that the new hospital will be located inside Oxford city limits,” said Baptist spokesman Ashley Compton. “In addition to the other contractual covenants, Baptist plans to honor the location agreement.”
Asked again if that meant the city limits as defined at the time of the sale, Compton said, “Baptist will honor the agreement to build within the Oxford city limits.”
In discussions on March 1, several city officials noted that the annexation could be advantageous to the city, whether or not the hospital locates there.
“When we did our last annexation, our testimony was that we were the densest city in Mississippi. What we annexed was even denser,” Mallette said.