At last night's marathan session of the Mayor & Board of Aldermen (BOA), there were two appeal hearings based on decisions by the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA).
In the first case, the BZA refused to grant a variance to Rev George Marshall who wanted to open a business (funeral parlor) in a residential district. Rev Marshall’s main argument was that there are already businesses in the district. Dennis Story, the new Planning Director, presented the case for the BZA, and he did an excellent job of highlighting the facts of the case. He said it was true there were businesses there now and that previous Boards must have approved those variances. But he argued for abiding by the law, which was clear. He said, at some point, you have to draw the line – and stop granting variances that are not within the confines of the City’s zoning ordinances. Aldermen Grey and Mathis voted in favor of Rev Marshall, Aldermen West recused himself (presumably because he owns a funeral parlor), and Aldermen Pollard, Massey, and Middleton voted to uphold the decision of the Board.
When the Planning Director got ready to present the case for the second hearing, the Mayor asked him to be brief. As instructed, Story was very brief, and therefore the case was not properly made for the BZA's decision, which in this case was to grant a variance to Cliff McCarstle to build a residence in a business district. Eva Dunkley did a good job of presenting a case for overturning the BZA's decision, based on the just completed action of the BOA - you must uphold the law. However, after a lot of discussion, the reasons for the BZA's decision eventually were made clear. Under the new proposed Development Plan, the district will be zoned residential. McCarstle said he could just wait a month. However, the reason he decided to go ahead and ask was that he was just moving an old house to the new location, and Mr Blankenstein, the person owning the land with the house on it, needed to get it moved quickly. Mr Blankenstein needed the property to make up for the space he lost (which I think is the pecan factory). The BOA voted again to uphold the decision of the Zoning Board. It seems to me the Mayor could have saved a lot of time, if he had simply allowed the Planning Director to present his case to begin with.
At some point during these hearings, one of the Aldermen mentioned discussing the issue in the private meeting they had before the public meeting.. (Watch closely when it comes on TV.) Perhaps they had made up their minds about these decisions before they came out – which may be why the Mayor told the Planning Director to be brief. Gee, I thought we had an Open Meetings Law in Mississippi that forbids closed door discussions, except in very limited circumstances. But I guess the law doesn’t apply in Natchez.
Probably the most unbelievable thing the BOA did during this meeting was to pass a motion by Alderwoman Mathis to require minutes of all future meetings be taken down verbatim. There were jokes about hiring new staff and killing trees, but they passed it! What a waste of taxpayor dollars. They may live to regret that vote - for several reasons.
The public hearing for the proposed City Development Plan is Tuesday, April 24 - mark your calendars.