Spot Zoning

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 15, 2011

Court of Appeals reaffirms decision over ‘spot zoning’

By John Howell Sr.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals last month refused to reconsider its decision overturning a 2009 Panola County Circuit Court ruling that would allow Memphis Stone and Gravel to mine an area in the south city limits along Highway 35.

The City of Batesville, through attorney Ben Griffith of Cleveland, on April 1 asked the State Supreme Court to overturn the Appeals Court decision.

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Scott and Mona Harrison, who live near the affected area, in March 2009 had appealed to the Panola County Circuit Court, asking the court to overturn the city’s decision to grant the temporary zoning variance to allow the extraction of gravel in the area zoned R-1 (residential) and C-2 (commercial).

When the Panola County Circuit Court sided with the city, the Harrisons, through attorney Pat Watkins of Oxford, appealed the decision and the Mississippi Supreme Court sent the case to the Court of Appeals. Last fall, the Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court’s decision, siding with the Harrisons and citing “illegal spot zoning.”

Mississippi court rules require that the case first go back to the court which rendered the decision, according to Griffith.

“We don’t do it necessarily because we think that court will change its opinion,” Griffith said. “We believe the Appeals Court is dead wrong; we say that this is an error as a matter of law,” he added. The city’s variance did not constitute spot zoning, according to Griffith, “nothing of the kind.”

The city has spent something over $80,000 in legal fees defending its variance decision, according to city records.

If the city’s petition to the Supreme Court is denied, the legal maneuvering will end, Griffith said. If the court agrees to hear the petition, the case will be argued before the court, Griffith said.

During the recent decade the Supreme Court has agreed to hear about one in five such petitions seeking to overturn Appeals Court decisions, according to a source close to the proceedings. The case, Scott and Mona Harrison vs. the Mayor and Board of Aldermen … and Memphis Stone and Gravel Company, should be decided in less than 90 days, the source said.
Scott Harrison is the brother of Alderman Stan Harrison. Mona Harrison is sister of assistant City Attorney Colmon Mitchell.