Apartment moratorium in effect

Although the Lamar County Board of Supervisors signed off on two motions to build multi-family dwellings at its meeting Monday, the board wants the public to know that the moratorium on construction of apartments and duplexes is still in effect.

The moratorium does not include apartments being built within the city limits of Hattiesburg.

Supervisors, who met at the William J. “Pete” Gamble County Courthouse in Purvis on Monday morning, considered two requests that were considered exempt from the moratorium, although one motion passed on a split vote. The requests involved a duplex where the floodplain permit was issued on Jan. 12, 2015 before the moratorium, and an eight-unit apartment complex that will be rebuilt after it was destroyed by a fire.

The Lamar County Board of Supervisors imposed a moratorium on construction of multi-family dwellings on April 21, 2016, to allow the Board “adequate time to study, review, consider, determine, modify and change, if necessary, the Lamar County Comprehensive Plan and Land Use, Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Regulations and Site Plan Ordinance as the same pertains to the regulation of Multi-Family Dwellings.”

The moratorium is in effect until May 1, 2019, unless the Board of Supervisors rescinds it at an earlier date.

The issue arose when supervisors received a request by Thurman Norton to build a duplex at 21 Hunter Lane after he had received a floodplain permit before the moratorium. The permit has since expired.

After a lengthy discussion, the supervisors determined that the duplex didn’t require a site plan and standard procedure in the county is to require a floodplain permit before any construction.

District 2 Supervisor Warren Byrd said he wanted to understand how this situation was different from a similar situation recently when a duplex construction request was denied.

“I’ve asked questions and I am trying to base my decision on this thing the same way we based our decision a few weeks back on property that did not have a floodplain permit filed, but it had a drawing,” he said. “That’s all he had.”

Senior Planner Michael Hershman said, “That one was shown as part of the overall development.”

“It was shown to be part of the overall development,” Byrd said, “and we voted against it.”

Brian Neuman, who works for the county in code enforcement, told Byrd there are two different levels.

“If you have a single duplex on a single parcel, it is treated like a house,” he said. “Once you start getting multiple duplexes on the property, that’s when you trigger the site plan. Right now, it’s nothing more than treating it like a house. It’s not on the parcel as all these other ones.”

“Once again, tell me what is different from this one and the one filed three weeks, besides this one he filed for a floodplain permit on Jan. 20, 2015,” Byrd said.

“The only difference is that this one sits on its own individual parcel,” Neuman said, “whereas the other one sat on a parcel that was already there. In the normal stance, that one would have required a site plan; this one wouldn’t.”

District 1 Supervisor Steve Lampton said the owner did what he had to do.

“The only difference I see here is he did the due diligence to get it approved to build,” he said. “He wasn’t aware of the timeline on the floodplain permit and he had health issues. He had done what was required of him at the time to build a duplex.”

However, Byrd made a motion to deny the request.

“Other developers were aware that this county was going to file a moratorium,” he said. “There was not an individual that was singled out; this was countywide. Based on everything I’ve learned and what you have reiterated to me, I’m going to motion to deny it.”

Byrd’s motion died for lack of a second. Carlisle made a motion to approve the construction; Lampton seconded and it passed by a 4-1 vote, with Byrd voting against it.

Later in the meeting, Hershman told supervisors that an architect wanted to rebuild an apartment complex at 43 Shears Road that burned before the moratorium was imposed. The board was told that the eight-unit project would fall under an exemption from the moratorium.

Supervisors determined that the apartment complex must be rebuilt according to its previous plans.

Newman said, “If they don’t build it exactly the way it was before, then they are not going to be allowed to build it.”

“Do they have to file a site plan for approval?” Byrd asked.

“I would say so, yes,” Hershman responded.

Carlisle added, “That’s our failsafe to make sure it goes back up like it was.”

The motion to allow the construction passed unanimously.

“Looking back, this decision that this board made has been a good decision for Lamar County as far as a moratorium on apartments,” Lampton said. “And it’s been a good decision and it’s been well received by the county. I just don’t want this to swing doors open with people thinking that we’re doing away with the moratorium because we’re not and we’re going to enforce it.”