By JOEL McNEECE
The Bruce Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously granted a “blanket variance” to clear the path for a Subway restaurant to open in Bruce at a hearing Tuesday night at Bruce City Hall.
The Board of Adjustment members – Chairman Carter Parr, Vice-Chairwoman Erma Spratlin, Secretary Vonda Keon, Lisa Barefield and Charles Smith – all said the requirements the zoning ordinance were putting on the proposed new business were unrealistic.
Kishan Patel, of Belzoni, who is trying to put in the Subway, was forced to appeal to the Zoning Board due to his initial permit being denied by Zoning Administrator Robert Edward Oakley.
Oakley denied the permit because the ordinance required the new business to have more than 40 parking spaces, and lengthy buffers from adjoining properties that were physically impossible.
“As the zoning administrator, I determined by the letter of the law in the ordinance that I had no choice but to deny the permit,” Oakley said. “As mayor, I can tell you we need this business, the jobs and the restaurant. I think the variances should be granted.”
Oakley went on to explain that there isn’t any existing building in the city that could meet the zoning requirements for a restaurant, except for Anthony Bollinger’s restaurant “Bubba T’s.” Attorney Cliff Easley, representing Patel, made the same point and admitted he and Oakley disagreed on several interpretations within the ordinance.
“When two lawyers are interpreting a few paragraphs in an ordinance differently, there’s a problem with the ordinance,” Oakley said.
Easley told the board he understood the ordinance’s intentions weren’t to “run business off,” but noted the many problems it was creating for his client.
“We need this business,” Easley said prior to asking for the “blanket variance” so Patel could be in compliance and get started on the restaurant.
Board of Adjustment member Charles Smith said he is “convinced the ordinance is wrong for Bruce.” He said despite his objections to the ordinance, he was in favor of granting all the needed variances and would not consider this action as a precedent for future cases to come before the zoning board of adjustment. He said he would hear each case on its own merits and make a decision as a board member.
Prior to agreeing to grant the variances, Chairman Parr suggested referring some of the matters to the planning commission for further study. Oakley and Easley both said the ordinance requires a decision on this case within 10 days and nothing regarding this case could be referred to another board until the board of adjustment had rendered a decision.
Oakley explained the ordinance stipulates after the decision is made, the planning commission could look at the specifics of the ordinance to possibly make a recommendation to the board of aldermen for future consideration.
Both the board of adjustment and the new Bruce Planning Commission met Monday night to elect officers. Planning Commission members are Chairwoman Connie Collins, Vice-Chairwoman Tanna Taylor, Secretary Celia Hillhouse, Ellen Shaw and Dwayne Williams.
In their Monday meeting they discussed the current zoning ordinance and some of the areas in which it doesn’t “fit” Bruce. The commission agreed to seek copies of zoning ordinances from other city’s to compare.