Following a five-hour hearing that began at 4:30 p.m. Monday and lasted well into the evening, the New Albany Board of Aldermen voted 3-2 against a request by New Albany resident Booker Farr to change the zoning of 1305 Munsford Drive from agricultural to industrial.
The decision brings to a close nearly two years of legal battles between Farr, the city of New Albany and many other residents adjoining the property in question over the proposed construction of an asphalt plant.
Alderman-At-Large Dan Skinner, Alderman Ward One Jeff Olson and Ward Three Alderman Tommie Beasley voted against Farr’s request, while Ward Two and Ward Four Aldermen Larry Sanford and Bill Tucker voted in favor of it.
Farr had sold the property to Memphis-based asphalt company Lehman-Roberts in 2007 with understanding from the city that the land was industrial. Lehman-Roberts’ intention was to construct an asphalt plant at the site in order to help accommodate its contract with the Mississippi Department of Transportation to help re-pave the future I-22 with 128,000 tons of asphalt.
During the hearing, Farr and Lehman-Roberts representatives argued that the land should be zoned industrial. He argued that Munsford Drive was built with the intentions of 18-wheelers traveling on it daily and that the land adjoined another smaller asphalt plan built in 1996.
New Albany Attorney Bill Rutledge, representing several of the adjoining property owners, argued that much of the land surrounding the property was either zoned for commercial or residential use and that, to change the property’s zoning status to industrial would be to change the environment of the community.
The hearing came a few months after Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey had ruled that the city’s zoning map incorrectly displayed the property as industrial and that it should be returned to its original status.
Tucker said that he voted in favor of Farr because he believed the property should rightly be zoned industrial.
“My thoughts are that the property should be zoned industrial,” Tucker said. was no reasoning to change the property itself. I really see no reason why you shouldn’t put industrial land adjacent to other industrial property.”
Skinner, who had voted that the property should be industrial prior to Judge Lackey’s decision, said that he believed Rutledge showed enough supporting evidence against changing the land’s status.
“After all the evidence was presented by both sides I felt that Rutledge made the case,” Skinner said.
Farr said that he was surprised by the vote.
“I’m just flabbergasted, especially by Mr. Skinner. He has always supported us and always voted for us,” Farr said.
“This has been going on for 20 months and it has really soured me on the judicial system. But this is my city and I’m still going to support it. We will just have to go on.”
Rutledge, speaking on behalf of his clients, said that he believed the board made the right call.
“This has been a long, hard matter of litigation for everyone and my clients and I certainly appreciate the fact that three aldermen voted not to rezone Mr. Farr’s property, which we have always contended was in the best interest of the citizens of New Albany,” Rutledge said.
“Booker Farr is a good friend of mine and a good man. This was simply something where we disagreed regarding zoning.”