Group opposes allow liquor store in Bienville community

Published 4:42 pm Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A group of Bienville Community residents in Hancock County, together with Pearl River County residents who live nearby, are fighting the proposed establishment of a liquor store at a closed former quick stop at North Bienville Road and Mississippi Highway 43 South.

The group will appear before Hancock supervisors on Wednesday and request a public hearing on the issue by presenting petitions containing signatures of community residents opposing the store, says Dawn Lee, who lives near the closed store in North Hancock County and is a spokesperson for the group opposing the store.

The establishment, if approved, would be only two-tenths of a mile from the Pearl River County line, and some residents on both sides of the line oppose the proposed store and charge it is being established only to rake off tax revenues and income from the sale of liquor to Pearl River County residents.

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“There is no other reason for putting a liquor store out here, other than that,” Lee said.

Said Bobby Seals, another spokesman for the group who says he lives only a half-mile from the store: “We just don’t need it out here. We’ve got ballparks around here, an elementary school, churches and elderly residents. I have lived out here all my life and I know all the people out here. I talk to them, and they are all against it.”

Seals who found out about the proposed liquor store while attending the October supervisors board meeting.

Lee said that when the Hancock County planning and zoning commission approved a special exemption for the store on Nov. 5, one of the reasons given for the approval was “tax revenues.”

Pearl River County is dry; Hancock is wet. While beer and light wine can be sold inside the Picayune city limits, the sale of hard liquor is prohibited county-wide. The Picayune city limits are about five miles from the proposed store.

Lee says that within a 10-mile radius of the proposed store are 14 churches and that a Hancock County elementary school is located only 1.9 miles down Miss. Hwy. 43, south of the proposed establishment.

The proposed store is located diagonally across from Seal’s Supermarket in the southeastern corner of the intersection at 24946 Miss. Hwy. 43 South. It was formerly known as Caston’s Quick Stop before it went out of business.

Lee said the Hancock County planning and zoning commission on Nov. 5 unanimously approved a special zoning exception for the store. She said that even before the planning and zoning commission acted, Hancock supervisors, in the board’s regular October board meeting, approved the plan by a 4-1 vote so it could go forward to the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control commission.

The request came from Lorray R. Maurigi, 2036 Hollywood St., Bay St. Louis, and Anne L. Werner, no address given, said Jamie Gregory, zoning administrator for the zoning and planning commission.

Hancock County District 2 supervisor and board president Rocky Pullman said that the board “basically gave them the approval to go forward with their request for their resort district permit,” which they will request from the state.

“For whatever reason, the people who wanted it also went before the planning and zoning to change the classification of the building,” he said. Pullman said he understood that passed “the other night.”

Gregory said that what was approved at a Nov. 5 planning and zoning commission meeting for Maurigi and Werner was a “special exemption” that would allow a liquor store to be located in an area zoned “Agriculture One.”

Now the applicants must get a “resort status” approval from the state, said Gregory. “They have already gotten approval from the board (of supervisors).”

Pullman, who lives in Pearlington, said he voted against the proposal. “It was the third time I have voted no on these type of issues,” he said. “All three of them in my district.”

“I don’t mind telling you that if I could outlaw beer, I would even outlaw it. That’s just me,” said Pullman.

Hancock County board attorney Ronnie Artigues said that there are two aspects to the issue. He said that the first issue was an endorsement by supervisors to let the proposal go forward.

He said that even if supervisors had voted against the proposal, that it could go forward anyway because applicants could request a permit from the state by generating a petition with 100 names.

He said the other issue is the “special exemption” which is making its way to the board.

��I have not actually seen what was asked of the planning commission nor what the planning commission did,” said Artigues. “I presume I will get that at the next meeting.”

Artigues said the group opposing the proposed store had 10 days after the planning commission decision to file an appeal with the board of supervisors.

Lee said opponents filed their paperwork for an appeal with supervisors on Friday. Now they will appear before supervisors on Wednesday and ask for a public hearing. Supervisors can then set a public hearing on the matter.

Said Lee, “Pullman voted no because he knows what the people want. We are on the north end of the county (Hancock). The proposed store is only two-tenths of a mile from Pearl River County. . .That’s why they want this liquor store up here, to attract people out of a dry county to a wet county. Then the people who buy the liquor here are going to take it back into a dry county.”

She added: “There is no way that you can describe this area as a resort area. . .And it is a dangerous intersection. There have been deaths at that intersection. It is located 1.9 miles from a public school. The lives of our children and bus drivers should be taken into consideration.”

“They have all that they want at the south end of the county. They have the casinos, a liquor store right there in the Kiln. Let the north end (of Hancock County) stay like it is. We don’t need it up here right next to a dry county,” Lee said.

Mark Hicks, chief enforcement officer with the ABC, said that the only body that can approve that area under consideration as a resort area is the State Tax Commission. “The people there who are trying to go in business make application through us for their permit and for a resort status,” said Hicks.

Hicks said supervisors could have either accepted or rejected the proposal, but applicants can go the petition route if they so chose, if rejected.

“I understand that it can be a confusing process, but we have not granted resort status to that applicant yet. We are currently doing a background investigation and looking at the area. That information will go in front of the chairman and associate commissioners (of the State Tax Commission) where a final decision will be made,” Hicks said.

“The residents who are in opposition to this will have an opportunity to address their concerns to the commission,” he said.

“Generally, we do not approve liquor permits unless you are inside a municipality. There are some exceptions, however. The State Legislature has made some exceptions. Generally, the only way to get a liquor permit out in the county is to have resort status or be a private club. They are wanting to open a package retail outlet, so they have to obtain resort status,” said Hicks.

“They went before the board (of supervisors) to establish sponsorship, and apparently the board did give that approval. That information will be sent to us in an application packet, but an agent will look at that area, and investigate it, and, of course, look at the opposition out there. He will do a final report, and it will go before the commission (State Tax Commission), and there a final decision will made on it,” said Hicks.

The State Tax Commission designates resort status and approves ABC permits, Hicks said.

“I can assure you that the commission will look at all aspects of this, before they make a decision on it,” Hicks said.

Lee said her group presented on Nov. 5 to the planning commission a petition with 336 signatures opposing the special exemption. She said her group was still obtaining more signatures to present to supervisors on Wednesday.

There are two petitions being circulated, one in Hancock and one in Pearl River County. Both read essentially the same. The one in Pearl River County is being gathered for presentation to the ABC, said Lee. The Pearl River County petition reads:

“Pearl River county residents are opposed to the opening of a liquor store that will be at 24946 Hwy. 43 South, on the corner of North Bienville Road. We feel it will be detrimental to our community because of surrounding schools, churches and children.

“It is located 1.9 miles from an elementary school. It will cause people from our dry county to be able to obtain liquor and bring it into our county, putting lives at stake. Hwy. 43 is already a dangerous road with frequent wreaks and this will only make the situation that much more dangerous.

“We live in this community and we have children and grandchildren on these roads. We do not want their lives endangered even more than they already are.”

The Item attempted several times unsuccessfully to contact Werner and Maurigi for a comment.