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Permit Prompts Flurry Of Activity

Preston Boutot stressed that losing the buildings would be detrimental to the entire town.

WATER VALLEY – There has been a flurry of activity in response to a demolition permit filed on Jan. 4 by Oxford businessman and Water Valley native Terry Warren to potentially tear down two historic buildings in the heart of the city’s historic district.

The chain of events included a special meeting Friday when city officials addressed the topic in a packed boardroom, followed by a decision Monday afternoon to reject the permit after the building inspector advised Warren that the requested permit does not agree with the 2018 building codes. Later on Monday night the Water Valley Planning Commission shared details of that decision in a meeting as commission chairman Eddie Foster explained that there was no plan presented with Warren’s permit application, which meant there was nothing for the commission to review. His comments came in yet another packed boardroom during the brief meeting on Jan. 14.

On Tuesday morning Warren filed again for a demolition permit, providing more detailed plans with the application. And at press-time Tuesday night, city officials were meeting in another special meeting to discuss protecting 118 buildings and structures in Water Valley’s historic district that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We certainly want this stopped, like all of y’all do. We want our Main Street intact. I can assure you on behalf of the board of aldermen that we will do everything we can to work with the property owner,” Water Valley Mayor Donald Gray explained during last Friday’s meeting. Although the special meeting was already scheduled on another matter, the topic dominated the 40-minute meeting. The Mayor explained there could be grounds to fight the permit.

“Could he appeal this? Certainly,” Gray added before opening the floor for comments from attendees.

Public Input

Input from the public in Jan. 11 included a statement from Dr. Jaime Harker, who told aldermen she operates the book store adjacent to Warren’s buildings.

“I don’t know if that building would be stable if the (Warren) building is torn down, I have real concern about that,” Harker explained.

Main Street Manager Mickey Howley noted that the listing of the buildings on the National Register of Historic Register does not prohibit the buildings from being demolished.

“Main Street’s perspective on this, it would be a crying shame. The buildings should stay, they have been there for 140 years,” Howley added.

Charlotte Lane also addressed city officials, noting that Warren knew the “rules of the road” when he purchased the buildings, referring to beer ordinance that was already in place at the time of the purchase. Lane also said Warren has tried to blackmail the board with this before.

Preston Boutot noted that the request by Warren was a “massive retaliation” to the beer ordinance. 

“If the board would possibly think to reconsider that, even though it is a ‘yes we let him win.’ But ultimately everybody else is losing if that building does come down,” Boutot explained.



Following input the Friday meeting transitioned to discussion on the beer ordinance at Ward 3 Alderperson Cinnamon Foster’s request.

“Sometimes things get tabled and lives move forward, and we go to the next fire and put it out,” Foster explained. “But I did want to look back at some recommendations that were made by a special committee to review the beer and light wine ordinance and the noise ordinance,” Foster continued, referring to a committee appointed by aldermen in late 2017, who recommended changing the portion of the beer ordinance that requires a beer to be served in anticipation of also being served a meal. 

“It’s something that I think that everybody wants to move forward on, I have talked to a lot of people over the last year about it,” Foster said, before motioning to amend this portion of the ordinance. 

“What will this allow to open in Water Valley?” Alderman-at-Large Herbie Rogers asked about the change.

“We are not going to have the requirement that beer be served in anticipation of a meal,” Board Attorney Daniel Martin answered. “There are other requirements in the ordinance that requires that food still be offered.” 

“My understanding that the requirement for a business to sell a certain percentage of food, it is just not specific to the individual,” Ward One Alderman Kagan Coughlin answered. 

“Our local ordinance says 50 percent,” Foster added, referring to the percentage of food versus beer that must be sold to stay in compliance with the ordinance. “In the State of Mississippi there are really no stand-alone bars,” Foster continued, explaining that the only variance would be in special situations. Foster also noted that beer and light wine is regulated by local option in Mississippi, while liquor sales are regulated by the state.

“When the beer law was passed in Water Valley, the board seemed fit to make an ordinance to protect the citizens,” Rogers said about the origin of the town’s beer and light wine ordinance after the product was legalized county-wide in a referendum in 2007.

“As time went on, I made the motion to go ahead and sell the cold beer in Water Valley. I did that on purposes of businesses in our town, to promote more business being done here instead of going out of our city to do it. My feeling is, if you are going to buy beer, you are going to buy it somewhere, and preferably you are going to buy it cold. That was a business decision on my part. To open the town up for a bar, I am opposed to that. I do not like the word anticipation in the ordinance, I think the word anticipation is a word that needs to be taken out… I just like for the town to know where I stand on the beer ordinance,” Rogers added.

Foster added that even with the change, a stand-alone bar cannot operate because of food requirements, a requirement that is also stipulated in state law in addition to the local ordinance.

“We still can’t have a bar in Water Valley, you have to have a restaurant where you sell alcohol. But if you change this one thing, you don’t have to be served in anticipation of a meal to order… a beer,” Foster said.

“I don’t get a vote… most of the people here know my opinion, I do not want to change the ordinance… it is up to these people right here who are elected,” Gray said about changing the ordinance.

Following the discussion, Foster, Coughlin and Ward 4 Alderman Nicole Folson voted in favor of changing the beer ordinance. Ward 2 Alderman Fred White and Rogers voted against the change. 

The ordinance amendment will have to be brought back to the board in February and will take effect in March. The mayor has 10 days from Friday’s vote to veto the ordinance change, an action that requires four aldermen to override.

“I got some phones calls today from people who are very opposed to changing it,” Gray said after the vote.

Warren’s  Response To City Actions

Warren stressed that tearing down the buildings would be his last resort and he is still open to offers to sell or rent the building. But he also said the kickback from the city is affecting his decision.

“Demolition was only one of them (options) and it was my very last. Due to the circumstances created by the city for lack of communication and negative information posted out there, it increasingly becomes a better option for me,” Warren added.

“I bought those buildings because I love them. I waited a long time to buy them,” Warren also said. He also said his decision to stop work on the buildings in November, 2017, came after he received assurance from one alderman that the beer ordinance would be changed, an assurance he said wasn’t backed up.

“Kagan (Coughlin) was the only alderman who supported changing the ordinance, even after a committee appointed by the Board of Aldermen recommended making the change a month earlier following a public hearing,” Warren said. “I didn’t pick a fight with them, I am reacting to what they did.” 

Warren also said that he would not spend any more money on the buildings, even after aldermen voted to change the beer ordinance at the Jan. 11 meeting.

“I have already opened a restaurant in Oxford. I am not coming. I purchased these buildings with the intent to do something very nice for the City of Water Valley. I do not want to tear these buildings down, it is simply an economic decision for me. I understand that the board voted to change the controversial beer law, but it is too little, too late to have any impact on my decision. I have no intentions of ever developing anything else in Water Valley. It was a huge mistake on my part to make an effort to bring a business to the City of Water Valley. I am trying to recover some of my loss in the best way that I can. At this time, I still remain open to any and all options, but the fact is that it will be my decision in the end.”

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