CATEGORY: Lafayette County
HED:Lafayette County residents seek zoning
By Errol Castens
OXFORD - "Lafayette County is growing," Maxine McGuire told an audience of some two dozen this week, "and if we don't do something to control how it grows, we'll have an ugly, ugly county."
The group gathered at the county library to discuss the need for zoning ordinances in the county and to begin a petition drive aimed at persuading supervisors to address the matter.
The petition pushers are joining a fray that moved to a higher level of fervor on both sides last month when author John Grisham and his wife, ReneŽ, wrote to the local newspaper about the lack of zoning in the county.
"Our ... contempt lies with the visionaries currently running Lafayette County," the Grishams wrote. "It is 1998, and the County still has no zoning ordinance. Anybody can build anything in the county."
The Grishams cited a mobile home dealership that had just located next door to their "pretty yellow house on the hill," adding that a hog farm would fit nicely into the current situation.
Adamant responses were quick in coming, with letters to the editor and even editorials from other newspapers in the state blasting the Grishams for losing touch with common Mississippians.
"Maybe it is good that you can see over the walls of your property so you can see that there is still a real world beyond your front door," Charles Lipe wrote. It is "the good people of Oxford," he continued, who "buy your books and allow you to live in the luxury to which you are accustomed."
McGuire's husband, Vince, called on his fellow citizens to heed the intent behind the Grishams' letter.
"The letter was not a statement against mobile homes, manufactured housing, affordable housing ... or us common folks of Oxford and Lafayette County," he wrote. "It was in support of county zoning ordinances."
Getting the board of supervisors to act on zoning will be the biggest hurdle, county planning director Chuck Wrenn said.
"It's not that they're against zoning," he said. "They know that it's coming. They're just not sure how soon it will be done."
The problem, Wrenn said, lies in a perception that most voters are against county zoning, especially those in more rural areas.
Maxine McGuire told of her conversations with elderly clients of the Meals on Wheels program that she coordinates for the county.
"They don't want anyone to tell them what they can do with their property," she said. "But when they learn that zoning is about keeping up their own property values, then they understand and change their minds about it."
McGuire developed her own interest in zoning several years ago when a neighbor bought a strip of land next to her house to construct a car repair garage. The McGuires ended up paying $10,000 for the land to keep the shop from going in, although the previous price had been just $300.
A side debate began on the model to be presented to the supervisors.
"You can create the model that you present to the board," Dennis Sullivan said. "You want a representational model, that people in that community have a voice in it."
"Since we're starting from nothing, we really need to think in terms of a broad-based land use plan," Carol Dorsey added.
The supervisors are considering a long-range planning process similar to Oxford's Vision 2020 initiative, in which land use and zoning would be a part of the study, Wrenn said.
"I'd like to tell the supervisors, 'Sure, undertake a long-range plan, but address the crucial needs of zoning in the meantime,'" Jerry Patton said.
Wrenn urged that a specific zoning model not be pushed, citing the political fallout from the adoption of a subdivision ordinance last year.
"That was literally warfare," he said, adding that county officials aren't eager to set off another such fracas.
"They don't want to take the flak," Joyce Kendricks said, "but that's their job."
McGuire has already seen the emotional intensity of the debate.
"I've had a few nasty calls - the 'you need to get out of here' kind," said McGuire, a resident of Lafayette County for 26 years.