Headlines – 1/12/2007

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2007

The Panolian: HEADLINES – January 12, 2007

  From the 01/12/07 issue of The Panolian   –   

Toyota overlooks Panola in search for new plant
     Batesville firefighter William Stewart pulls hose from an unseen fire truck, Engine No. 9, along Gin Road Thursday as he prepares to attack a fast-moving grassfire. The fire started about noon near Highway 6 West and gusty winds pushed it north through a sage grass field toward Stewart?s position on the road. Spongy ground prevented firefighters from moving into the field, but several departments coordinated their efforts despite the terrain and the blaze was contained by
1 p.m.
Board turns down smaller-lot exception
By Billy Davis

A polite but passionate discussion among members of the county land commission cruised along for more than an hour Monday evening, concluding with a vote to turn down two variances for a proposed subdivision.

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The land commission debated the pros and cons of a proposed high-density subdivision sought by developer Ted Stewart, who had requested two variances: minimum lot sizes of 8,000 square feet instead of 12,000, and a front yard setback of 25 feet for homes instead of the county’s minimum of 35 feet.

Stewart is cooperating with the federal government to build a multi-phase development that pairs low- and moderate-income applicants with their own homes. The property is located in a pecan grove that is located both inside and outside the city limits of northwest Batesville, where the city’s Patton Lane turns into Hadorn Road.

The commission’s vote Monday involved phase one of the development, which includes 20 total lots located just west of the city limits.

If the 8,000-square-foot requirement is allowed, the finished development on both sides of the city limits should include "at most" 90 homes, Stewart told commission members Monday.

The homes located in the county will number about 55, he said.

For an hour and 25 minutes, commission members wrestled with the variance requests and several other factors, including the lack of police protection just beyond the city limits, the density of nearly 100 homes, and likely traffic congestion along Patton Lane/Hadorn Road.

Regarding traffic concerns, commission members noted that the proposed development includes two main streets despite the large number of homes, and both streets connect to a single thoroughfare, Patton Lane and Hadorn Road.

"I drove around and looked at homes being built by Druetto and by Reeves Williams, and they’re all
R-2s, but my concern is the traffic funneling into a narrow corridor," commission member Bob Haltom told Stewart.

Responding to that concern, Stewart said he expected the county and city will address the traffic problems in the future if the development is allowed.

Pressed by commission member Donna Traywick about what specifically the county and city can do to help traffic, Stewart said a troublesome tree needs to be cut down.

"I’ve been trying to get that tree cut down since ’99," Stewart said, though he didn’t explain how cutting down the tree would help traffic flow.

The commission also acknowledged Stewart’s financial commitment to the project, namely that if the commission refused the 8,000-square-foot variance for the lot sizes, the number of lots Stewart hoped to sell would shrink roughly by one-third.

Civil engineer Byron Houston, who is working for Stewart, told commission members that plans for curbs and gutters, for example, would be tossed out if the lot sizes stay at 12,000 square feet.

"The curb and gutter runs up the cost," Houston said. "That’s why you see the density being proposed."

Houston said the minimum lot size in Batesville is 7,200 square feet in residential areas zoned R-2.

In the county, however, there is no provision in current planning and development ordinances for high-density subdivisions, leaving commission members to compare Stewart’s plans with the county’s R-1 designation for low-density developments.

As commission members mulled a decision, commission consultant Bob Barber and commission attorney Colmon Mitchell described the importance of a vote to allow the smaller lot sizes, suggesting that it would set a precedent for future subdivision developments in the county.

"If you do agree with the variance, you must explain it with justifications or you will hear, ‘You did it for him, do it for me,’ down the road," Mitchell said.

Barber had prepared a list of five scenarios for "determining justification," such as other developments that have received the lot size variance or allowance of the variance would improve the ordinances already in place.

As commission members read and re-read Barber’s list, and the meeting slipped nearly to the hour and a half mark, member Sledge Taylor made a motion to reject the pair of variance requests.

"I don’t see any conditions here that we can meet," said Taylor, explaining his reason for making a board motion.

Commission member Lana Douglas seconded the motion. Voting for Taylor’s motion were Danny Walker, Donna Traywick, Taylor and Douglas. Voting against the motion were Tim Holiday and Verna Hunter. Haltom and Danny Jones abstained.

Judge rejects city’s appeal of jury verdict
By Billy Davis

A federal district court judge has denied an appeal from the City of Batesville and upheld a jury verdict that the city violated the rights of a construction company owner.

In a 19-page opinion, District Court Judge Glen H. Davidson, who presides over the Northern District of Mississippi Court in Oxford, ruled that Bob Shepard is owed monies for being overlooked by the city’s work superintendents.

Davidson’s ruling upholds a jury’s verdict reached last August in Oxford that found Shepard is owed $45,000 for work in 2003 and 2004 that was passed on to other construction companies.

Shepard was represented by lead attorney David W. Waide and attorney Walter Brent, both of Tupelo. The City of Batesville was represented by Daniel J. Griffith and Benjamin E. Griffith of Cleveland, and Assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell.

Following Davidson’s decision that favored Waide’s client, Waide faxed the judge’s opinion and a cover letter to The Panolian this week.

"Judge Davidson found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding, both that the City’s actions violated the bid laws and violated the due process clause of the United States Constitution," Waide wrote.

Reached about the court’s opinion, Colmon Mitchell said he could not comment until he reviewed the opinion and conferred with city officials.

Davidson presided over the jury trial, which was held at the federal courthouse in downtown Oxford.

Several jump into race while supervisor bows out
By Billy Davis

The challenger column keeps filling up with candidates seeking Panola County’s District 3 supervisor seat, and for good reason: Supervisor Mack Benson says he is not running for re-election.

"Something could change, but right now I don’t intend to (seek re-election)," Benson, 75, told The Panolian Thursday at press time.

"I’m not going to run," Benson later said.

The District 3 supervisor, who serves as vice president of the board, had not signed qualifying papers to run for re-election by noon on Thursday. Qualifying began January 2.

Incumbents typically fill out qualifying papers as soon as qualifying begins as a public show of their political intentions. To postpone qualifying sometimes raises speculations.

By Thursday, the District 3 race includes five candidates (in alphabetical order): Tommy Austin, Mike Darby, Donnie Shaw, Gary Thompson and Melvin Traywick. All candidates except Shaw had qualified since January 4 to run for District 3 supervisor.

Incumbents who have drawn opponents by Thursday include:

  • Circuit Clerk Joe Reid, who has drawn challenger Margaret Pope;
  • District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins,
    whose challengers so far are Calvin Land, Patricia Tramel and Howard Brower;
  • District 5 Supervisor Bubba Waldrup,
    who faces Michael Towles
  • District 1 Constable Cleve Gale,
    who will face Eric "Buck" Harris;
  • District 1 Justice Court Judge James Appleton, who faces Everett Hill.

Panola County public officials who have qualified by January 11 but had not drawn opponents are: Chancery Court Clerk Jim Pitcock, Sheriff Hugh "Shot" Bright, County Tax Assessor/Collector David Garner, District 2 Constable Raye Hawkins, County Coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge, County Attorney C. Gaines Baker, District 1 Supervisor James Birge, and District 2 Justice Court Judge Willie E. "Bill" Joiner.

Most candidates who qualify in local races typically run as Democrats, meaning they are vying for a win in the party primary, which is August 7.

One incumbent who has yet to qualify for office is District 2 Supervisor Robert Avant. Reached Thursday, Avant said he intends to run for re-election for District 2 supervisor.

"I’m running," Avant said.

The deadline for qualifying is March 1.

For information about qualifying for office or questions about voting, contact the Panola County Circuit Clerk’s office at 563-6210 in Batesville or 487-2073 in Sardis.

BPD arrests No. 4 for drive-by killing
By Jason C. Mattox

A fourth suspect in the January 6 drive-by shooting that took the life of 23-year-old Delrica Turner and injured 28-year-old Jerome Ellis has been arrested.

Roderick Griffin, 17, was arrested Thursday afternoon and charged with murder, aggravated assault and drive-by shooting, said Det. Capt. Paul Shivers of the Batesville Police Department.

Griffin joins three other suspects, Eric Smith, 18, Percy Roberson, 24, and Henry Patterson Jr., 17, who were previously charged for the murder that occurred shortly after midnight at 109 Everett Street.

All four suspects appeared in Batesville Municipal Court Wednesday for their initial appearance, at which time Judge Jay Westfaul set Griffin’s bond at $2,250,000, the same amount bonds had been set for Smith and Patterson. (See related story, page A10.)

No bond was set for Roberson due to already being out on a felony bond at the time of the shooting.

According to Shivers, if a suspect is out on felony bond and commits another felony, their right to a bond is revoked.

Lt. Col. Tony Jones said the Batesville Police Department is still seeking information on why the shooting took place.

"We know their was an altercation earlier in the evening," Jones previously stated. "But we are still investigating this to find out exactly what happened and why it happened."

All four have been bound over to the grand jury where they face felony charges.

Alderman: no ‘burning’ this time
By Jason C. Mattox

The Batesville Board of Aldermen granted a rezoning request which will allow a local man to operate a used car lot in conjunction with his existing repair shop.

During the first board meeting of 2007, George Fondren appeared requesting the rezoning.

Fondren owns the property at 425 Highway 51 South, and operates Abundant Auto Repair at the location.

"Mr. Fondren is requesting the rezoning from C-2 commercial to C-3 commercial to allow him to sell used cars on the property," Code Enforcement Office Administrator Pam Comer said.

Comer said the rezoning was recommended by the Batesville Planning Commission.

"The planning commission recommended the rezoning because of the neighborhood around the business," she said. "The business is located near the old Meek’s Auto lot and some of Loden Properties to the southeast is zoned C-3."

Ward 1 Alderman Bill Dugger asked if the city could grant the rezoning but place some conditions on the property.

"We have been burned by this kind of thing before," he said. "I think putting some conditions on on the property will protect the business owner and the city."

Comer explained that the city has handled similar requests with conditional use permits rather than rezoning the property, but rezoning was requested in this case.

"You can certainly place some conditions on the property," Comer responded.

Dugger then asked if the car lot would be paved.

"I do plan to pave the lot," Fondren said. "But I need to get the business going first."

Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow said the city needed to set a time frame in which the paving should happen.

"I think two years would be a fair time," he said.

Fondren asked if the city would allow him three years to pave the auto lot.

"I would rather grant the shorter time and extend it for him if he comes to us with good reasons for not having it done," Dugger said.

Dugger also asked that a condition requiring the cars to be parked in a uniform manner be added to the rezoning.

The matter was approved 4-0.

Ward 3 Alderman James Yelton has been absent since having a stroke in 2006.

In other board business:
The Batesville Police Department was given permission to purchase a police canine from Vohne Liche Kennels in Denver, Ind. at a maximum cost of $7000. Sgt. Ruby Myers will travel to the facility and select the dog. Expenses will be paid by the city.
Off duty officers were given permission to serve as security for David Bailey at a Gun Show in Southaven January 5-6.
City Clerk Laura Herron was given permission to sign a proposal for Butler, Snow Attorneys-at-Law to prepare the city’s disclosure statement.
Three deputy clerks were given permission to attend the winter certification conference Feb. 8-9 in Oxford with expenses paid by the city.
Herron was given permission to sign the preventive maintenance contract with Tri-Star.

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