Neighbors balk at pawn shop near casinos|[5/03/06]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Homeowners in an area just off Warrenton Road say they are angry about a pawn shop possibly moving next to their neighborhood, but fear the move is inevitable.

The city planning committee was to review plans for a 10,000-square-foot building proposed to house USA Pawn today, city planner Wayne Mansfield told about 30 residents gathered Tuesday at the home of George and Beverly McMillin on Riverwood Place. But, he said, a building permit is &#8220pretty much a done deal.”

The residents, mostly from Riverwood and Grey Oaks circles, Riverwood Place and Rifle Range and Warrenton roads, elected five of their ranks to contact Brian Smith, owner of USA Pawn, to set up a meeting to discuss the move next week.

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The pawn shop, owned by Capital Holdings LLC of Madison, plans to move from its former location at 4119 Washington St. to a one-acre vacant lot at the entrance to Warrenton Road, just south of the Mississippi Welcome Center and adjacent to the mostly upscale homes, some of which overlook the Mississippi River. The lot was sold to Capital Holdings by Three W LLC, parent company of Waring Oil, for an undisclosed amount, in February.

Capital Holdings was paid a &#8220relocation allowance” by Ameristar Casino to move from its Washington Street location, where it leased space from Warren County District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, who subsequently sold the lot to Ameristar. The contract also restricts to Ameristar casino advertising inside the shop and gives the Washington Street casino right of first refusal to buy the lot back in the future.

The property is one of several surrounding properties Ameristar has bought this year as it moves forward with plans to build a 14-story, 400-room hotel next to its casino barge on the river.

Ameristar spokesman Traci Hayes said this morning the casino had no statement about plans for the 4100 block or nearby properties it’s bought recently.

McDonald received approval in a 4-2 vote by the city zoning board after a contentious meeting in February to move USA Pawn’s neighbor, Automatic Transmission Service, 4117 Washington St., and another adjacent business, Arc-Up Welding, 710 Lucy Bryson St., to 885 N. Frontage Road, just west of River Region Medical Center West Campus and east of Confederate Avenue. Both former properties were bought by Ameristar.

McDonald is supervisor of District 1, mostly unincorporated areas east of Vicksburg. District 3 Supervisor Carl Flanders, whose jurisdiction includes the Warrenton area, attended the meeting Tuesday to advise on organizing a homeowners’ association but said the county had no role in the specific dispute over the pawn shop.

The lot planned for the shop was zoned for commercial use in 1972 and has shown a commercial use pattern since, Mansfield said. Another commercial development, a shopping center and golf course that will also include some residential development by Denver-based Silvertip LLC, is planned further south on Warrenton Road, on the former site of Vicksburg Chemical Company.

Regardless, Mansfield said, the city could not change the zoning once plans to build on the property were under way.

Many residents who had reviewed plans for the building, some of whom have real estate experience, agreed that the site was &#8220inappropriate” for a pawn shop, but that there was little legal recourse to prevent its relocation.

Instead they will try, as some put it, &#8220to catch flies with honey”: if they work with Smith, he may agree to some aesthetic changes that would help the business blend with the neighborhood. Rhonda Rowell, a resident of Warrenton Road since last August, said she looked at building plans and met with Smith Tuesday afternoon and that he was willing to meet with the residents to discuss the business. The building will not have bars, and Smith said less than 1 percent of its revenue at the Washington Street location came from stolen goods, she said.

Smith was not available by phone this morning.

Some residents proposed searching for new lots the shop could build on, but Rowell said Smith’s main interest was in being near the casinos, which makes the proposed location – on the main road between the Ameristar and Rainbow casinos – one of the most ideal along the river.

In the long run, many residents agreed, the space is an inevitable location for a business, and the pawn shop could be a better neighbor than a fast-food restaurant or a gas station – if the homeowners and business owner can cooperate.

&#8220Our best option may be to talk to (Smith) and get him to build the thing to blend in,” George McMillin said. &#8220There’s a lot worse that could go on that lot.”