| By Billy Davis
Panola County supervisors will hear a last-ditch plea for a compromise on commercial paving when they receive a recommendation in coming days from the Panola County Land Development Commission.
Land commission members voted unanimously Monday night to ask that supervisors require paved commercial parking lots along the county’s highways, a change that would require the supervisors reverse a decision they made last month.
The board of supervisors voted May 1 to allow limestone rock as an alternative to a hard surface, a vote that set in motion the required public hearing that took place Monday night at the county courthouse in Sardis.
The supervisors’ May 1 vote was itself a reversal of a longtime requirement that commercial properties operate with parking spaces and driveways surfaced with asphalt, concrete or DBST, a rock-sealed material.
During the public hearing, commission members agreed to ask supervisors to reconsider their May 1 decision, citing steady growth in the county, specifically along Highway 6 East, as a main reason for the request.
Commission member Dan Stewart also suggested that the federal Americans With Disabilities Act requires a hard surface on commercial property, wondering aloud if Panola County is breaking the law by reversing the paving requirement.
Stewart read directly from the 209-page law, suggesting that the mountain of federal regulations allows local governments to "add to but not take away" from the federal law.
"If our county decides to change the paving, then we would need to submit that to the Justice Department," Stewart told his colleagues.
As required by the hearing, the commission also nailed down three options for allowing limestone rock: a minimum six-inch base of clay gravel topped with at least three inches of limestone rock, or an entire bed of at least seven inches of the limestone rock, or an engineer’s opinion regarding the suitable amount of gravel or limestone rock for the base.
The land commission was joined by only one participant during the public hearing, District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup, who has searched for some political middle ground in recent weeks as his colleagues squabbled with the land commission.
During the May 1 meeting, supervisors passed on a suggestion offered by Waldrup that commercial businesses at least pave their parking spaces.
During a friendly but frank exchange with the commission Monday night, Waldrup hinted that the commission’s paving request might find a cool response from his colleagues on the board of supervisors.
Waldrup had remained quiet while the commission discussed a possible compromise, but a direct question from commission member Bob Haltom prompted Waldrup to comment on the controversial topic.
"Will that be a problem for your board?" Haltom eventually asked Waldrup, referring to the commission’s highway paving request.
After a five-second pause Waldrup replied, "Yes," flashing a nervous grin.
"Okay, let’s not put him on the spot," said land commission chairman Danny Walker, helping Waldrup back away from an obvious political predicament. Waldrup had told the commission earlier in the meeting that he was not representing the board.
Before being pulled into the discussion over the highway paving, Waldrup first volunteered his opinion about the limestone requirement, suggesting that the commission require a specific limestone rock known as CR 610.
"CR 610 will compact down like a hard surface," Waldrup said. "You won’t spin like you would on gravel."
"It is very durable," agreed Walker, whose work history includes an engineering career with the Miss. Department of Transportation.
Walker and the commission agreed to Waldrup’s suggestion, inserting CR 610 as the required material for an unpaved commercial parking lot.
The commission rejected Waldrup’s suggestion that an engineer decide the amount of CR 610 needed, instead leaving the hiring of an engineer as a third option for property owners.
Reached after the meeting, land commission attorney Colmon Mitchell said supervisors will receive the CR 610 recommendation for "roads that are not maintained by the Miss. Department of Transportation," meaning businesses located along MDOT-maintained roadways would continue to abide by the hard surface paving requirement.