Almost Iced by Petal Power
by Ron Davis
An attempt by a Mississippi shopping center tenant to expand operations has set off a whirlwind of controversy in that state’s city of Petal.
The tenant operates a business at East Oaks Shopping Center in Petal, and the controversy has pitted local elected officials against city administrators, with the tenant caught in the middle.
The tenant simply wanted to expand by building a retail ice dispenser, dubbed “The Ice House.” That expansion required building and electrical permits, which, when submitted, quickly gained approval by the Petal building inspector. The local mayor and aldermen then stepped in and attempted to reverse the decision of the building inspector.
On appeal, the Zoning Board of Petal affirmed the building inspector’s ruling. Members of that Board found that permit approval is appropriate in the retail zone where the tenant plans to build the ice dispenser.
But that failed to satisfy the elected officials. They put the matter on the agenda at their next board of aldermen meeting. In so doing, however, they gave no notice to the tenant of their meeting plans. And at that meeting, they recessed the regularly scheduled agenda and went into “special session,” at which they overturned the Zoning Board decision regarding the ice-dispenser construction. They justified their action based on a finding that the construction represented a “variance” to zoning regulations.
The tenant appealed that action by the mayor and aldermen, and a circuit court ruled that the proceedings of the elected officials were arbitrary and capricious and violated the due process guarantees of the U.S. and Mississippi constitutions.
The Petal elected officials appealed that ruling.
An appellant court upheld the circuit court ruling, explaining, “The circuit court concluded that the failure to include any rationale for the city’s decision was an indication that the decision was arbitrary and capricious. Standing alone, this lack of rationale was not, in and of itself, the sole basis of the circuit court finding. There were, of course, reasons for the decision that could be gleaned from the record. The failure of the city to articulate these reasons was just a further indication of the city’s manner of dealing with the issue in a manner contrary to…law.” (City of Petal v. Dixie Peanut Co., 2008 WL 2098031 [Miss.App.])
Decision: May 2008
Published: June 2008