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Heiskell approves rezoning for controversial laundromat in Rossville

December 30, 2016 GMT

An overflow crowd filled the conference room of Courthouse Annex I on Thursday afternoon for what was probably Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell’s last meeting.

Some perhaps attended to witness the end of Heiskell’s 16-year reign, after her loss commissioner-elect Shannon Whitfield in November.

For those efforts they observed the unexciting but important housekeeping measures that mark the end of a calendar year as Heiskell made appointments to several local boards.

But the majority seemed intent on the outcome of a rezoning application, from residential to commercial, for a property on Wilson Road located in Rossville between the state line and Ridgeland High School.

First on the agenda, the commissioner acknowledged the resignation of Foye Johnson as a trustee for the county’s pension plan, followed by her reappointment of Melody Day and Bobby Teems to the Walker County Joint Development Authority.

Heiskell next named Dr. Ben Benson, DVM, to a three-year term, replacing Dr. Bob Smalley, on the county’s Animal Control Board.

She then noted the resignations of herself, W.E. Kinser and David Ashburn from the Walker County Water Authority Board while naming Bill Cooke, Michael Haney and Annette North as their replacements.

Heiskell adjourned the meeting and immediately convened a public hearing for the consideration of a request to rezone a property at the intersection of Wilson Road and James Street from residential (R-2) to commercial (C-1) for construction of a laundromat.

This was neither the first time the issue had come before the commissioner, nor will it probably be the end of the matter.

Dennis King has been trying to open a coin-operated laundry at 701 W. James St. since last May, when he first applied for a rezoning — something approved by the county’s planning commission.

At that time, and during the ensuing months, David Roden, a founding member of the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group, has spearheaded opposition to King’s plan.

Objections primarily centered on matters of public safety, adherence to zoning procedures and legal issues with both sides having attorneys present during several hearings about the matter.

Attorney Larry Stagg took Heiskell and those in attendance during Thursday’s meeting noted that King had come before the commissioner three times without any action being taken on his request. Stagg pointed out that the property had a history of having been used as a business and its being in the proximity of other commercial operations on Wilson Road.

Roden restated his main objections which are that King had originally requested permits to build a residential structure before a change of plans and again stressed objections about crime and safety being affected by the business.

After several nearby neighbors expressed concerns and their opposition to the laundry, Heiskell said "This has been a hard case. ... There has been a lot of misunderstanding here."

King said he has invested roughly $250,000 already, that the laundry would be well-lit and have 16 surveillance cameras and could, in fact, be a benefit to combating crime in the immediate neighborhood.

To that, Roden asked why such an abundance of security cameras were needed if crime was not a factor.

Heiskell decided to rule in favor of King’s request to rezone from residential to commercial while at the same time advising the opponents that they could pursue the matter in court if they choose.

After the meeting, King said he intends to begin work in the first few weeks of the new year and hopes to be ready to open for business in 60 days or less.

Opponents to the project said they intend to seek an injunction to stay construction and hope to have the matter decided in a court of law if necessary.