Aldermen hold off on decision after public hearings

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2017

Poplarville City Hall was packed Tuesday night with members of the community attending two public hearings concerning the operation of tutoring and a homeschool located in a residential area.
For about six months, the Poplarville Board of Aldermen has been dealing with the intricacies of the matter. Kimra Torrence, who operates a homeschool and tutoring program out of her home on North Jackson Street, brought the issue to the Board’s attention last year.
Torrence alleged that her neighbor, Jim Brown, has harassed the school’s staff and students.
Brown contends that her homeschool and tutoring services violate city ordinances.
Tuesday, the Board held two public hearings in hopes of closing the issue; the first hearing was to decide if tutoring would be allowed in residential zones while the second would decide if her services meet the city’s definition of a school.
Brown’s attorney, Grant Bennett, formally objected to both public hearings because the proper public notification allegedly was not made concerning the text amendment and because Brown claims he was not notified of the second hearing until 11 a.m. that day.
Bennett also said the Board could not amend the ordinance without a recommendation from the planning commission. City Attorney Nick Thompson contested by saying amendments can be made through other avenues without such a recommendation.
Scott Gibson, Torrence’s attorney, said in-home tutoring is being conducted throughout the city, including in public schools located in residential areas.
“If tutoring is allowed there, then why not at Mrs. Torrence’s home?” Gibson said.
Thompson said the Board was considering a conditional use permit process where tutoring services would have to receive approval from the planning commission or the Board in order to operate.
Torrence did not object to the permit, but said her time and attention needs to be focused on meeting the needs of her students, not attending Board meetings and being harassed by her neighbor.
Brown, who said he lives 30 feet from her school, complained the children who attend the homeschool year-round are loud and the “business” was forced upon him. He presented a petition to the Board with 50 unverified signatures.
“I have a petition here to protect our home values, and that’s what this is doing, it’s hurting our home values in our neighborhood,” Brown said.
He claimed that by allowing tutoring in residential areas, auto repair, manufacturing and other “tutoring businesses” would move into neighborhoods.
“No one wants to stop the piano teacher from teaching piano, we want to stop the big businesses like we have at 416 North Jackson,” Brown said.
Bennett said that when the city adopted ordinances in 2011, the intention was to exclude tutoring businesses from residential areas; something he claimed was reflected in previous Board minutes. Both Bennett and Brown said they did not object to what Torrence was doing, but where she was doing it.
“Over 50 people say don’t put this here. These are the people that are being affected by it,” Bennett said.
No one in the audience stepped forward to speak on Brown’s behalf. Several parents and students spoke on Torrence’s behalf, calling her an asset to the community. Several Board members also expressed support for Torrence and the school, saying it was a needed service for the community.
In regard to Torrence meeting the city’s definition of a school, Gibson said the Board should adopt the state’s definition in the compulsory school attendance law.
Bennett said the city doesn’t have that jurisdiction. The Board voted to take both matters under advisement.
“We can’t afford to just call it because we want to because it takes time,” Poplarville Mayor Brad Necaise said. “We have to make sure that we do the right thing.”
In other news, the Board:
– Recognized Poplarville Firefighter Camron Ladner for graduation from the state fire academy. All full-time firefighters in the department are now certified.
-Approved a vehicle and cash forfeiture from the Poplarville Police Department.
-Approved advertising for garbage and waste disposal.
Before adjourning, the Board entered into executive session to discuss potential economic development with Tommy Breland, a local real estate developer.
The next meeting will be held on May 2 at 5 p.m.

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About Julia Arenstam

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