Gravel Drive Conflict

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 13, 2009

In conflict over gravel drive, he said, she said… who said?

By Billy Davis
The Panola County land commission is inching toward just its second attempt to enforce the county’s decade-old zoning ordinances, even though the perceived problem may not exist.

The latest test case is a thrift store located east of Batesville, where storeowner Opal Henderson reportedly has yet to make mandatory improvements to her driveway entrance.

Henderson’s property intersects Highway 6 and therefore she must obtain a driveway permit from the Miss. Department of Transportation (MDOT).

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The land commission, in April, approved Henderson’s business permit on the condition that county engineer Larry Britt sign off on the thrift store’s parking lot.

The land commission, meeting Monday, reported that Britt’s approval is still pending because he is awaiting approval from MDOT, which reportedly is still waiting for Henderson to add gravel.

But the state agency is not waiting for Henderson to finish any driveway work, MDOT district engineer Richard Allen told The Panolian late Thursday.

MDOT records show Henderson was given a permit in 1999 to put in a commercial driveway, which she has done, he said.

Asked if MDOT is requiring any more improvements, Allen answered, “No.”

Henderson was required in 1999 to build two driveways but did not, Allen said. MDOT, after inspecting the entrance this week, will likely amend the permit and allow the single entrance.

To further complicate the issue, Henderson said this week she has followed MDOT’s only requirement by adding more gravel, though she didn’t say where it was dropped and spread.

Britt, meanwhile, recalled that Henderson’s entrance required much more gravel. Henderson told him that adding the gravel was MDOT’s job, he recalled.

“The parking lot was okay, but I asked (Henderson) why she hadn’t put more gravel on the entrance. She said MDOT will do that,” he said.

An MDOT employee later told Britt the state agency had explained to Henderson that adding gravel to the entrance was her responsibility.  

Henderson’s encounters with the commission date back to 2005, when she was warned to stop operating her second-hand store without a county permit.  

That same year, the commission waded into its first attempt at enforcement, when a second storeowner refused to follow county guidelines for paving the business’s parking lot.

After that situation lingered, the commission voted unanimously to allow county permit clerk Diane Stewart to sign an affidavit against the storeowner.

If the case had proceeded, it would have unfolded in justice court. But the Board of Supervisors intervened, sided with the business owner, and altered the paving guidelines to allow crushed rock instead of asphalt.

That first test case also created tension between the land commission and a former county supervisor, who was employed at the store during the dispute.

Some supervisors had also claimed the commission, which acts as an advisory board, had proceeded without their knowledge.   

In the latest situation, Stewart and the land commission are set to proceed on better terms with county supervisors – beginning with better communication.  

After Monday’s meeting, Stewart told The Panolian she has explained the current situation to board president Gary Thompson and Supervisor Kelly Morris, whose county district includes the thrift store.

The commission’s attorney, Colmon Mitchell, had urged Stewart at the November 9 meeting to follow the “chain of command” before she proceeds with the affidavit.

Commissioners, during discussion of the thrift store, agreed the lingering issue deserved action.

“It would be really sad – or worse – if there is an accident because the driveway is not right,” said commission chairman Danny Walker.

“This situation is contrary to everything we’re trying to promote here,” he said.