Thomasville Times Enterprise

July 8, 2014

Commissioners address building permit appeal

Patti Dozier

THOMASVILLE — A real estate situation thought to have been settled six years ago resurfaced at a Tuesday Thomas County Commission meeting.

Chris Warren, owner of property in Heatherway Subdivision off U.S. 19 South, owns an R-1-zoned lot in the subdivision.

“The zoning office has said I cannot build a home on that lot,” Warren told commissioners. He added that he has been paying taxes for three years on the land, which is consistent with nearby lots.

Tom Lehman, a Cairo lawyer representing Warren, told the board his client was not requesting a rezoning request, but a variance. When the land was rezoned R-1 six or seven years ago, construction was limited to four lots, Lehman said.

“This lot was not approved as a building lot,” Lehman said, adding that it is discretionary with commissioners as to how they handle the situation.

“ ... You should look at the hardship it puts on the petitioner,” Lehman said. It is in the board’s and public’s best interest to grant the variance, he said.

Mike Stephenson, county manager, pointed out several weeks of negotiations in 2008 between landowners who wanted no more development and a developer who wanted maximum development.

Noting the number of lots approved for construction, Lehman said, “He wants one more,” in reference to Warren’s variance request.

Said Warren, “When I purchased it, the zoning was synonymous with the use,” Warren said.

Stephenson recalled “passionate disagreement” between the developer and residents of the subdivision.

Proper zoning does not automatically mean a building permit will be granted, the county manager told Lehman.

The petitioner owns property he can do nothing with, interjected Commissioner Mark NeSmith.

Said Commissioner Elaine Mays, “We had worked hard and fast on this. We thought it was something we needed to do.”

Mays suggested the three commissioners not on the board at the time of the 2008 ruling read minutes from the meetings at which the subject was discussed.

“ ... I think (Mr.) Warren is entitled to a prompt decision, a quick decision. ... Delaying is rejection,” Lehman told the board.

NeSmith said he would like input from nearby property owners.

Commissioner Ken Hickey recalled “grueling” meetings between property owners and developers, adding that the parties eventually acquired services of a mediator.

Hickey said he would like input from one property owner in particular.

The board unanimously approved a motion by Mays to notify nearby property owners that the subject will be discussed at a Tuesday, Aug. 12, board meeting.

Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820.