Little action in long city meeting

Published 8:35 am Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Jesse Wright | Picayune Item warning, signs: Although the Picayune City Council did not approve a moratorium on digital signs, it could still approve a moratorium in its December meeting when and if a full council convenes.

Jesse Wright | Picayune Item
warning, signs: Although the Picayune City Council did not approve a moratorium on digital signs, it could still approve a moratorium in its December meeting when and if a full council convenes.

The Picayune City Council had a long, fraught meeting Tuesday—and they’ll likely have much the same meeting again in December.

Two contentious zoning issues that brought out dozens of citizens and some lawyers did not get resolved because, in the absence of Mayor Ed Pinero, the council couldn’t get enough votes to vote for or against the measures. So they will return to next month’s agenda.

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The first issue in question was approval of a planning commission recommendation that would have allowed Robert and Brandie Renskowski to use a building at 950 Hunt St. as a recycling facility. The Renskowkis own Ne1 Recycling, and they want to offer free home and business recycling to anyone in the city and county who would like to have it. The building they’re using is zoned L-1, which is light industrial use, but dozens of residents flooded the council chambers with complaints and council members Lynn Bumpers and Larry Breland were opposed to granting the couple a conditional use for their property. Breland voted to deny the approval of conditional use and Bumpers seconded the motion.

Breland said residents were worried the company could expand and become unsightly or attract pests, and he mentioned a prior business attracted swarms of bees.

“With the recycling, recycling is good, but I think it should be at another location,” he said.

As the result of a typo in the planning commission minutes, Breland also mistakenly thought the planning commission had not approved the conditional use for the property, and he spent some minutes explaining why the city council should not approve something the planning commission didn’t approve, until interim Mayor Wayne Gouguet told him his minutes had a typo.

Gouguet pointed out to Breland that he didn’t think it would be fair for the city to forbid someone from using their property as it is zoned.

“If someone has got a piece of property that’s zoned light industrial, you can’t deny them the right to use it as that,” he said.

Breland pointed out some residents had lived in an adjacent neighborhood for years, before the light industrial area was zoned as such.

Once it was obvious the council was split on the issue, Gouguet asked city attorney Nathan Farmer how many votes a motion needed, and he said four to either pass or deny.

“You have to have an affirmative denial,” Farmer said.

If that happens, he said, nothing changes.

“It would basically, at that point in time, it would be sitting on y’all’s agenda,” he said. “There’s no action taken on it because there’s been no affirmative vote taken one way or another.”

Nevertheless, debate continued and included members of the audience as well as the Renskowskis.

Della Potts, one of the residents who spoke, said she is particularly concerned the proposed recycling operation would attract pests.

“You’re going to allow them to do what they’re going to do,” said Potts. “You can’t tell us we’re not going to be infested with roaches, with rats or bees like that other mess out there,” she said, speaking of the earlier bee infestation Breland had brought up.

After that, Brandie Renskowski addressed the council and she said that at present, the company is only her and her husband, and they will store all the recycling inside the building. She said they will also demand residents wash the recycling, and if it’s dirty, she said she would not take it.

“If they’re not cleaning it out, we’re not picking it up,” she said.

Renskowski also added that the recycling would only be bundled at the location, so there wouldn’t be any actual recycling going on.

“It’s just going to be baled and put on a pallet and once its on the pallet, it’ll be loaded onto a truck to be processed elsewhere,” she said.

Eventually, after more back and forth, a vote was called. Breland and Bumpers voted to reject their conditional use permit and Gouguet and Tammy Valente voted in favor of approving it. Councilor Janice Miller Stevens abstained.

But, without four votes, neither side won and the votes didn’t count.

The next contentious issue was also a planning and zoning issue. City Code Enforcement Officer Tom Milar asked the council to put a moratorium on the issuance of any permits for digital signage in the city so he could look at the laws in other cities.

Milar said the city should amend its ordinance on digital signs to regulate light pollution and computer security. Milar told the council he’d had numerous complaints from motorists about the city’s only digital sign, which is on Memorial Boulevard in front of a car wash next to Walmart.

“Its so vague it does not determine exactly what the brightness of the sign should be or should not be,” he said of the city’s law. He added the state may have a law, but he only began looking into the issue that day. Milar said he’d like a 90-day moratorium, although he said he would try and recommend changes as early as possible.

“Based on that one sign, we’re receiving complaints, Milar said. “We have three additional applications for permits at this time.”

Milar added that computer hacking could also be an issue and he would like the ordinance to require software security to prevent that.

“If they can hack into the CIA, then they can hack into there and put up ‘I don’t believe in Christmas’ or blah blah blah,” he said.

Milar’s recommendation was contested by Bill Cruse, an attorney who represents Blanning, LLC, a billboard company that already has permission for two signs, but has not yet erected them.

Cruse pointed out that the moratorium as it was presented to the council had a timeframe in it, and delaying construction on other signs was wrongly profiting the company that owns the only digital sign in town. Cruse also complained, as he did at the Oct. 20 meeting, that his client is being unfairly harmed by the city because the city’s planning commission is still mulling whether or not to grant a variance to the one-mile halo requirement and allow a second digital sign into his client’s area, thereby potentially economically harming his client.

“We’ve met all statutory regulations for our permit and that is being withheld,” he said.  

Cruse also hinted at a federal lawsuit if the delays continued.

“We’re talking six-figure resources to set these things up,” he said. “We meet the dollar requirements for federal court.”

But the waiting isn’t over.

When Gouguet called for a vote, Bumpers, Breland and Stevens voted for the moratorium on new sign permits and Gouguet and Valente voted against the moratorium. 

The council did, however, pass its consent agenda, a request for a home occupation license and a change order for a public works project. The council also signed off on a police auction, the purchase of more police cars and travel for Jim Luke, Chad Dorn and Theresa Milar to attend an ROCIC conference in Hilton Head. Finally, the council approved a donation to the fire department from Fred’s Dollar Store.

The council will meet next Dec. 1.