Hattiesburg rezoning concerns downtown residents

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A rezoning issue in downtown Hattiesburg has attracted the interest of citizens after a vacant convenience store that was once considered a nuisance is being bought to reopen.

The corner of Bay Street and Southern Avenue was incorrectly zoned as a residential area in 1989, but it has served as a spot for a convenience store and a florist shop for several decades.

"It's very important that we keep ours as a business, so we need it to be zoned commercial, commercial-residential," said Coughlin Florist owner Faye Whiddon.

Marvin Arrington, who grew up near the area, is in the process of buying the lot where the vacant gas station is located with plans to reopen a convenience store. In order to do so, he had to request the area be zoned as commercial rather than residential.

"We're not trying to cause any problems," he said after a public hearing Monday evening. "We just want to have a legitimate business to raise our family."

Opponents to the rezoning said that the previous store location attracted things that were not characteristic to the historic downtown area. Some examples in Monday's hearing were indecent behavior, loitering and poor upkeep of the lot.

"I've lived close to the property for excess of ten years, and it just hasn't been kept up," said Bay Street resident Lloyd Munn.

Munn and other residents said they are not opposed to businesses in the area, but they are weary of that location due to its history.

"We want to make sure that anything that is done is scrutinized under code and is done the correct way," said Munn.

Councilwoman Mary Dryden, who represents that area in Ward 4, agreed with Munn about the code being upheld for businesses in the district.

"It's not about a piece of property and how much money it would bring," she said. "It's about preserving what they've created there. It's become a lifestyle."

Arrington did not provide details of his plans for the outward appearance of the store, but he told the council that he would provide them with plan as soon as possible per request of Ward 3 Councilman Carter Carroll.

In a July 2 regular meeting of the Hattiesburg Planning Commission, the request to rezone both the vacant store location and the floral shop were approved 4-1. The city council is set to vote on the rezoning in Tuesday's meeting.

Copyright 2014 WDAM. All rights reserved.