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Land commission look at grandfathering contractors

By Billy Davis

Panola County’s land commission, still inching closer to introducing building codes for new homes, is now mulling how to “grandfather” existing building contractors in the county.

Contractors could be required to show a privilege license to perform construction work, but commissioners have acknowledged that many contractors without a license are skilled and experienced.

The City of Batesville, for example, requires a privilege license that some contractors do not have, said commissioner Tim Holliday, a licensed plumber. 

“That keeps them from working inside the city,” he said.

Land commission consultant Bob Barber volunteered to research how neighboring counties dealt with the issue of grandfathering.

The land commission has voted to adopt building codes but it has yet to finalize a list of requirements from the thousands of entries in the International Building Code (IBC) and similarly named regulations.

Many entries have been deemed too restrictive for rural Panola County and have been tossed out.

The commission on Monday did more tossing, exempting “maintenance activities” of a home.

“What if the central air goes out? What is that?” asked commissioner Bob Haltom.

“That’s maintenance,” responded Barber.

The building codes will require that a new home in unincorporated Panola County is built using recognized requirements for framing, electrical and plumbing, among other construction projects.

Outbuildings such as workshops and sheds will be exempt. Agricultural buildings are already exempt per state law. 

A county building inspector, Michael Purdy, has been hired to examine construction, mirroring a similar task performed in Batesville by its Code Enforcement Office.

Purdy will also oversee Panola County’s flood plain plan, and Board of Supervisors president Gary Thompson told commissioners Monday that improving the plan will be Purdy’s immediate goal.

The hiring of a flood plain manager was required by the Miss. Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), which also found 11 deficiencies that must be fixed.

Discussion of the building codes came an hour and a half into the meeting, where commissioners had already voted on three separate zoning issues for a five-acre, 11-duplex development on Bethlehm Road.

The first and quickest zoning issue was developer John Person’s request to reclassify the five-acre site from agricultural to R-1.

The commission speedily approved the reclassification, since the property is already surrounded by single-family residential development, including Person’s other rental properties.

Construction of the duplexes is phase two of the development, Persons said. 

“There’s R-1 to the front and R-1 to the side. That case has been made,” noted commissioner Sledge Taylor.

During discussion of the 11 duplexes, the issue that came second, commissioners voiced concern with the number of duplexes in the five-acre site.

“It concerns me that there’s not much room left to mow or for children to play,” Danny Walker, the commission chairman, told Persons.

Persons responded that renters normally enjoy small yards that they don’t have to maintain. The duplexes will have larger back yards, and the cul-de-sac is safer for children, he also said.

Commissioner Danny Jones pointed out that the lot variance, if allowed, would place four families on an acre of land.

“That’s an awful lot of people in an awful small area,” Jones observed.

The lot sizes were allowed, but the commission required Persons to set aside at least a half-acre for a park area.

Persons agreed with that requirement, saying he would install picnic tables, but no playground equipment, due to liability concerns.

The commission also stipulated that the variance allowed for duplexes – not apartments.

A third stipulation was that the variances allowed by the commission were made with Persons and would terminate if he sold the property.

During discussion of the third zoning issue, Persons watched as commissioners turned down a variance for curb and gutter in a cul-de-sac.

Curb and gutter, used in place of ditches, allows for runoff water to flow under the street through a drainage system.

Persons maintained that curb and gutter, which is expensive to put in, is normally exempt in rural subdivisions. But commissioners had already approved a variance for the 11 duplexes, a density roughly equivalent to four families per acre – or 22 families on five acres.

Allowing Persons to construct ditches for runoff would gobble up even more acreage, commissioners said.

The commission’s vote to allow the reclassification, and the vote to turn down curb and gutter, will go to the Board of Supervisors for their approval.

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