Riles gets zoning board OK for funeral home on Indiana

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 15, 2001

Charles Riles answers questions at the Vicksburg Board of Zoning Appeals meeting Thursday. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[01/12/01] Former funeral director Charles Riles Thursday won a favorable recommendation to change the zoning of land on Indiana Avenue to allow construction of a new funeral home.

No one spoke in opposition to Riles’ request and the zoning board voted unanimously to recommend to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that the change be granted. There was no word on when city officials might vote. Normally, they await a transcript of zoning board meetings.

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The land, now undeveloped, is just east of the city’s new Memorial Fire Station. It would be Vicksburg’s seventh funeral home.

When annexed in 1990, the city designated it for R-1 Single Family use. Riles needs CBR-4 Commercial, Business and Multifamily Residential, a category that allows light commercial use.

Riles said he plans to build what he described as a state-of-the-art funeral home on the 3.82-acre tract.

For nearly 40 years, Riles was associated with Fisher and Fisher-Riles Funeral Home as an employee and later as owner. Five years ago, he sold the funeral home to the Loewen Group Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1999, Loewen filed for bankruptcy under both United States and Canadian laws. Loewen then cut off the remainder of the payments to Riles and, in August, further cut back on his funds and canceled his non-competitive agreement, Riles said.

Riles was then free to begin plans to open a new funeral home.

In his presentation before the zoning board, Riles said:

The property is sufficiently close to the center of town to be easily accessible.

It provides easy access to Interstate 20.

There is enough space to provide adequate parking. In response to a question from Lonnie Boykins, acting chairman, Riles said he hoped to be able to install at least 95 parking spaces and he did not believe he would have to resort to any parking along Indiana Avenue.

Boykins also raised the question of what would happen if a funeral procession was leaving the funeral home and the adjacent fire station needed to dispatch a vehicle.

“The fire truck would have precedence,” Riles said.

Commission member Bob Walters expressed a concern the board would be setting a precedent for spot zoning in the area that could change the character of the area from residential zoning to commercial.

“In my experience, very few funeral homes are not located in residential areas,” Riles replied.

Mike Davis, a local real estate agent, also addressed that issue in comments in support of Riles. He reminded the zoning board it would be up to the board to make those decisions when the time came.

“Mr. Riles is a victim of the inadequate zoning in Vicksburg and he shouldn’t be penalized,” Davis said.

“This location is prime for what he wants to do,” Davis said, adding he sees the part of Indiana Avenue between Porters Chapel Road and Oak Park becoming a commercial zone to support adjacent residential areas, such as Wisconsin Avenue.

In another matter before the board Thursday, the zoning board also voted unanimously to grant an exception to Good Samaritan Physical Therapy to place a mobile-home-type temporary office adjacent to its office at 1901 Mission 66 while a permanent building is built. The board granted the exception for a year.

Tammy Davenport, owner and administrator, told the board she hoped to be able to move the temporary office in three to six months when she no longer needs it to house her office functions.