Council denies petition to reopen Bay Street store

By BUSTER WOLFE,

The Hattiesburg City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to deny a petition by a Hattiesburg resident to reopen a convenience store at 314 Bay St., supporting the Planning Commission’s earlier denial of the move in a historical area.

However, the Council stopped short of adopting a resolution to amend the city's Comprehensive Plan to change the future land use of Bay Street from “Neighborhood Business” classification to “Neighborhood Conservation District 1.” The change would have limited further the types of businesses that could have located in the area.

Corey Arrington, who said he had been a resident in the area for 27 years and was speaking for his brother, property owner William Arrington Sr., had been trying to reopen the store since 2014. He said he was forced to provide a site plan and then have a survey conducted, while he said a clerical error was involved in the zoning dispute.

“We feel like we were targeted,” he said during Monday’s hearing. “We feel like we were targeted because they prolonged (the process).”

Arrington said if he is not able to open the convenience store because of the zoning, the land will be forfeited because it cannot be converted to a residence.

Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood Association President Tara Poole said the association had opposed earlier attempts to change zoning in the area for businesses.

“The actions that HHNA has taken over the last four decades has preserved the historic residential character of our neighborhood,” she said. “It has helped it become a place where properties hold their value and often increase in value.”

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden read a prepared statement opposing the motion by Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado to support the zoning change.

“There has been no demonstrable evidence of a clerical mistake in the existing Land Development Code or the previous Land Development Code to justify rezoning the property to a neighborhood business,” Dryden said. “Changing the status of the convenience store property on Bay Street would be an example of spot zoning, which is considered an unacceptable zoning practice. Furthermore, there has not been a change in the neighborhood, nor has there been a demonstrated need, two factors that should be weighed heavily when new zoning is proposed.”

Delgado said she made the motion to adopt the zoning change because “we’ve been through this a very long time.”

“It was clear to me from the presentation by the petitioner (Monday) that he filed this out of desperation and inability to find a path forward to use his property for the purpose that he purchased,” she said. “I was talking to a great thinker recently and he was saying to me that we need to find a way to say ‘yes.’ I think this is a prime example of a situation where we could.”

Delgado said when people decide to live in a community, they don’t necessarily choose who their neighbors are going to be.

“Depending on how we go into that relationship as a neighborhood, we can encourage the people who live in the surrounding areas and the businesses that may locate in buildings that are in close proximity to our homes,” she said. “We can encourage them to be good neighbors. We can develop a line of communication with them so that we are able to perhaps influence the condition of the property, how the property is maintained or the general character of the business in our community.”

The city is doing the Arringtons a great disservice, Delgado said.

“We are continuing to cost them when it comes to their desire to become business owners in the city they were born in and grew up in,” she said. “I have witnessed situations where a young person came with a great idea or desire to own a business, open a business or engage in an endeavor in this city that we would be willing to kill the proverbial calf to welcome them and encourage them to do that.

“But in this instance, these young men have been treated terribly and treated differently. I think we haven’t given them the opportunity to locate a business. We have put a standard of performance that a white business owner and an Asian business owner have had at that location. These guys have never been given an opportunity to open a business there. The race of these individuals was brought up by the people who made the presentation in opposition and they were wrong in that group. It was terribly unfair.”

Delgado and Ward 5 Councilman Nicholas Brown supported the appeal, while Dryden, Ward 1 Councilman Jeffrey George and Board President Carter Carroll of Ward 3 voted against the appeal.

In the resolution to amend the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Delgado made a motion to deny the move because she said the Comprehensive Plan needs to be reworked. In a prepared statement, Dryden said she supported the motion, which was also approved by the Planning Commission.

However, the motion to deny the resolution was approved by Delgado, Brown and George, while Carroll and Dryden supported the resolution.