By Hunter Dawkins
On Wednesday, the Pass Christian Historic Commission, in a 5-1 vote, denied the approval of application for the construction of a new parking lot which has been the center of controversy among city leaders and some residents for the past couple of months.
After 90-minute deliberation from both sides, Historic Commission Members Scott Naugle, Jenny Nicaud, Dorothy Roberts, Nonnie Debardelben and Danny Taylor — voted against the application, while Commissioner Anne James voted in favor.
The controversy began in late August, when homeowners Jeffrey and Amy Steiner filed a lawsuit in the Harrison County Chancery Court seeking an injunction prohibiting the development.
“There’s really no plan,” said Henry Laird, the attorney for the Steiners.
Laird pointed out that the city of Pass Christian did not give any information to the public and did not present any application to the planning commission on the pro-posed development.
“Why is the city paying $16,000 for grass to grow?” Laird asked while referring to a piece of the property that was subdivided by city leaders for their parking lot plans.
Once the commission started the discussion, Kalif asked City Attorney Malcolm Jones if there was any jurisdiction to base the ruling on.
Although attorneys from both sides debated this, state law 39-13-5 was brought to the table, which states, “The commission may, by local ordinance, review proposed governmental actions affecting government-owned structures included, within local historic districts, located on landmark sites or designated as landmarks.”
Jones reviewed all of the details of the parking lot, including the exact specifics, but was questioned on multiple accounts by the commission.
Commissioner Taylor brought to light a ruling that was determined by the United States Department of Interior that states historic districts should not attempt to construct parking lots.
Laird then launched off into a 45-minute examination of the city of Pass Christian’s actions, claiming the city was in violation of Section 5-11 of the Smart Code where he said it states no structure can be built without the approval of the Historic Preservation Committee in a historic district. Therefore, the city he says was acting without a certificate of appropriateness.
Mayor Leo “Chipper” McDermott angrily stood in front of commissioners, and explained the cost already involved and launched into a deliberation.
Pass resident Bill Hightower stood and conveyed the residential owners’ coalition opinion, reiterating their opposition to the parking lot.
As the final vote was cast, each commissioner discussed his or her reason behind their vote with the exception of Commissioner Amy Wood who recused herself from the situation.
The city of Pass Christian is allowed to appeal the decision. Jones would not immediately clarify if the city planned to make an appeal however it did say there would be discussion on the matter at the next Board of Alderman meeting on Tuesday, October 17.
Last Tuesday, at the city’s Board of Alderman meeting, City Leaders voted to award a $141,167 bid for the construction of the Davis Avenue Municipal Parking Lot even though the Steiners’ attorney had issued a letter to cease and desist and litigation is pending.