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Lafayette County Supervisors hear update from CASA, discuss menaces to public health and prosecution

The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors met on Monday to discuss several items of contention, including updates from the local CASA chapter, dimensional variance and conditional use permit approvals and the long-standing battle to prosecute owners of J&J Wholesalers for continued violations of the Lafayette County Land Development Standards and Regulations. 

Erin Smith, the founding executive director for CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) of Lafayette County, opened the meeting by thanking the Board of Supervisors for their continued support of the program, as coronavirus protocols have prevented the chapter from hosting its annual fundraising events. 

“We simply couldn’t do anything without you all,” she said. 

CASA of Lafayette County is a non-profit organization that advocates for abused and neglected children that are in foster care. The local chapter is currently working on 31 cases, with 55 children in need of care. With requested funding from the Board of Supervisors, Smith and the local CASA chapter plan to cover personnel travel, emergency clothing for children in crisis, basic needs including car seats and beds, and anything else a child or family may need. 

“We have a $100 basic needs budget per child,” Smith explained. “As you know, $100 doesn’t go very far anymore. We do not have an influx of individual donors, though we do have a good, steady amount. But, for us to continue to grow and serve the children of Lafayette County, donations are very important.” 

The agenda then moved to the discussion of dimensional variance approval for Lot 81 in The Highlands, Phase 10 and the approval of a conditional use permit for Clarise Phillips Catering, both of which were approved by the Board. 

After a presentation from Director of Development Services Joel Hollowell, two Lafayette County plots, 9 CR 5057 and 22 CR 5057, were deemed menaces to public health, safety and welfare. Hollowell cited erosion, garbage and ill-placed, abandoned motor homes as reasons for this decision. 

“This is an extremely dangerous situation, as there are a lot of children that play in that area,” Hollowell said. “Every time I am in that subdivision, I see children out there. So, we certainly believe it is a menace to public health.” 

The Board voted unanimously to have the property cleaned and vetted within a 30-day period. 

The Board then launched into the most controversial item on the agenda: a public hearing for J&J Wholesalers pursuant with Article VII Section 3B of the Lafayette County Development Standards and Regulations. This, according to Hollowell, is an issue that has persisted for four years. 

Panola County businessowner Brian Jones came to Lafayette County in early 2016 seeking an address for his property on Highway 7. He claimed that he was relocating his business, yet it was later discovered that Jones was using the property as his personal residence. 

In August 2016, construction began on an 8,000 square-foot slab that was supposedly going to be Jones’ business. A separate, smaller building nearby was, according to construction workers, going to be a childcare facility. This smaller building later became Jones’s residence. Jones was charged with constructing a commercial complex without site plan approval. 

Jones later began seeking site plan approval in June of 2017. 

“Those of you who were members of the Board at that time will recall that it was not exactly the type of site plan that we were used to getting,” Hollowell said. 

The Board granted preliminary site plan approval contingent upon several factors, including immediate purchase of a building permit and construction in accordance with the 2012 International Building Code. As each successive deadline approached, Jones supplied excuses for why the site plan work had not been completed. The Board did renew the permit to no avail, and Jones was eventually prosecuted and asked to pay a fine. The numbers currently stand at $64,400 for violating the site plan approval process, and $49,350 for violating the permitting process. 

After pleas from Panola County Attorney Gaines Baker, the Board voted to give Jones a two-week extension, during which Hollowell will have full authority to inspect and investigate the property in question. This item will be back on the agenda at the Board’s first November meeting. 

Discussions of speed bump installations on several county roads were also pushed back to the November meeting, due to a lack of site inspection. 

The next Board of Supervisors meeting is set to take place Monday, Nov. 2 at 5 p.m. at the Lafayette County Chancery Building.  

By Hayden Wiggs | EAGLE Contributor