| By Billy Davis
The Panola County Land Development Commission is entering new territory with its announced plan to take a business owner to court.
Commission members voted unanimously Monday night to allow county permit clerk Diane Stewart to sign an affidavit against Stan Holcombe, owner of Stan’s Country Store.
If the charge proceeds, it would take place in Panola County Justice Court, the first time such a charge has been filed by the land commission.
Stewart said Thursday that Holcombe is being fined $100 a day from January 2, the date of a 30-day, last-chance deadline voted on by the commission in November.
In a certified December letter, land commission attorney Colmon Mitchell told Holcombe of the 30-day deadline approved by the commission. In the letter, Mitchell notes that Holcombe told the commission in an October 10 appearance that he would apply for a variance on the requirement.
The commission "concluded that you had not applied for the variance and ordered that you pave the parking lot and entrance at your aforesaid location, as required by Panola County regulations, within thirty (30) days of the date of this letter," Mitchell wrote.
A paved parking lot, including entrances and parking spaces, is a standard requirement for commercial properties that operate in the county.
The land development commission approved Holcombe’s business in August, 2004, granting him a special exception for a retail store operating in an area zoned agricultural.
Holcombe sells fresh cuts of meat and vegetables from the business, located at 24441 Highway 6 East.
To date, however, the store’s white rock parking lot includes a small paving area, approximately 15×30 feet, directly in front of his store.
Reached Thursday, Stewart said the fine comes only after she sent a letter to Holcombe in May and had "numerous phone calls" with him over the past year about his unpaved lot.
In the May letter, Stewart told Holcombe that his parking lot "has got to be done the way the board approved it to be."
After the ongoing tussle with Holcombe, Stewart said, the land commission has learned from the experience: business owners are now instructed to pave parking lots before they proceed with development.
Subdivision developments must also have paved roads, Stewart added, noting that the commission may pursue fines against a mobile home development, Old Panola Circle, if the roads are not paved in the near future.
Subdivision developer Nolan West, for example, was instructed by the land commission Monday night to pave the Sardis subdivision he is constructing before he begins selling lots.
"I think we failed with Stan, but the lesson has been learned," Stewart said.
At the Monday commission meeting, the 10-member board voted unanimously to pursue the fine against Holcombe.
The commission at first agreed to allow Stewart to pursue the fine, but commission member Danny Jones requested a vote that would clarify the commission’s support of Stewart.
"I don’t want Diane to be seen as the heavy in this," Jones told the commission.
At the commission meeting, Stewart suggested Holcombe could be fined $500 a day from January 2 but said Thursday the county’s land-use ordinance allows a maximum $100 fine each day until the land-use requirement is fulfilled.
"I looked it up and it’s $100, not $500," Stewart said.
Reached for comment about the commission’s action, Holcombe said he was unaware that the commission is pursuing a fine against his business.
Holcombe said he has postponed the variance request because he also plans to return to the commission to request a slaughter house on the property.
"Otherwise I’d have to put out two red signs and that would cost $100 each time," Holcombe said.
The signs announce a landowner’s request for a variance and announce the date of a public hearing.
Holcombe also defended the use of white rock in his parking lot.
"I just don’t think a country store would look right with a paved parking lot," Holcombe said. "I think I’ve got a nice-looking business."