Enchanted Hills residents balk at store’s rezoning

Published 11:40 am Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Residents of Enchanted Drive near the site of a former convenience store on Wisconsin Avenue objected Tuesday to returning the spot’s zoning to a category that would allow a store to reopen on the site.

The six residents attending the monthly meeting of Vicksburg’s Planning and Zoning Commission cited problems with crime and raw sewage flowing from the store into the street.

The commission, meeting as the Board of Zoning Appeals at the Vicksburg Convention Center, voted 3-1 to recommend rezoning. Under the board’s rules, the issue must go to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen because only four of the seven members attended the meeting. The proposal requires a unanimous vote to pass.

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“I’ve been in that neighborhood long enough to see it go from a good neighborhood to a so-so neighborhood,” Marian Ables said. “I’ve had to put up barbed wire across my backyard to discourage people from taking shortcuts across my property to get to Enchanted. The litter was terrible. We were also beginning to have burglaries in the area. Those stopped when the store closed.”

Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the police department has received calls about burglaries and some drug and gang activity in the Enchanted Hills area, but nothing excessive compared with other areas of the city.

One of Ables’ neighbors, Jennifer Heffner, said the store had a sewage treatment pond, adding that when it rains, “That pond overflows and sewage runs right down the street onto my property.”

Sewer Department superintendent Willie McCroy said the property has a septic tank. He said his department had not received complaints about raw sewage on Enchanted Drive.

When commission member Tommie Rawlings asked the residents what they would like to see done to the building, one resident had a ready solution.

“Close it up and remove the building,” Donald Ray Hollis said. “I understand everyone has to make a living, but they don’t have to make a living at my expense. I want my grandbabies to be able to play in my front yard.”

Known as the 4-Way Grocery, zoning administrator Dalton McCarty said the store was built in 1972, when that section of Wisconsin was in the county. He said the area was annexed into the city in 1990, zoned residential in 1995, and the store continued operating as a non-conforming use. Sixty days after the store closed in 2011, the exception expired and the property was automatically rezoned residential.

Property owner Bhupinder Kaur wanted the property rezoned to reopen the store, arguing the current residential zoning was made in error. Kaur was at the meeting but did not address the board.

“This property is clearly not residential,” said Michael Winfield, Kaur’s attorney. “You can’t live in it. It’s definitely a business. It’s located on the corner, that’s a good spot for a gas station.”

But the residents said they don’t want another store on the corner. When it was open, they said, the store caused heavy traffic on Enchanted Drive and attracted gangs and drug dealers, who they said hung out around the store and on the street in front of their homes.

Winfield said the residents’ complaints involved problems with the previous owners, adding his client would clean the property and discourage people from loitering around the building.

“They’re going to want people to come in and buy something. They’re not going have people hanging around discouraging people from stopping,” Winfield said. “This is a potential tax base. It’s generating tax revenue and it’s all going back into the city of Vicksburg.”

In addition to Rawlings, commission members attending Tuesday night’s meeting were David Sessums and Warren Jones, all who voted to approve the request, and Fred Katzenmeyer, who voted against it.

Members Steven J. Jones and Anita Collins did not attend the meeting. Collins, the newest board member, was ill and unable to attend. Attempts to contact Steven Jones were unsuccessful. The board also has a vacancy that has not been filled.

The building at 3613 Wisconsin Ave. is near the intersection with Bazinsky Road and Enchanted Drive.