By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission tabled a request for a zoning change from R-1 (single-family residential) to R-M (mobile home) when questions arose about the parcel’s ownership at the commission’s meeting Tuesday.
Shenestia Thompson requested a rezoning which would enable her to replace her older manufactured home with a newer one on 5 acres of property at 1646 Rockhill Road. City Attorney Chris Latimer said city staff approached him Monday asking whether or not Thompson had sufficient evidence that she was the owner of the property in question.
“That’s important because under our ordinance only the owner or someone with a concurrence of all of the owners of the property can try to bring forth an application to have a property rezoned,” Latimer said. “City staff investigated the ownership of this parcel, and it was determined by that investigation that the parcel is listed and owned by the Thomas Brooks estate, and that the Thomas Brooks estate has been paying taxes on this particular parcel.
“There was no written proof presented to city staff in this application of what the Thomas Brooks estate consists of, what entity or person, or who can sign off on behalf of the Thomas Brooks estate,” Latimer added. “In the packet, both Emma Gillespie and Katherine Williams represent that they’re the only surviving heirs of the Thomas Brooks estate, and the city doesn’t have any reason to disbelieve that or disagree with that, but it is incumbent on the city to act with documentary proof of ownership when it comes to rezoning.”
Latimer said Thompson needs to consult a lawyer to receive a determination of heirs, a legal document which would assure the city of Thompson’s legal property inheritance. He said she would also need a court to determine who can legally sign documents pertaining to the estate, including the rezoning application.
“Once the city has those two documents, it will be able to move forward with the re-zoning,” Latimer said. “I know no applicant wants a delay, but the cleanest thing to do legally would be to give the applicant time to come up with this proof of ownership, and to delay any further proceedings to give them time to do that.”
At Latimer’s recommendation, Commissioner Dora Herring made a motion to table the item, but she also asked if Thompson had any questions about the steps Latimer had outlined for her. Thompson did not respond, but several relatives and owners of property nearby responded on her behalf. As they did, Thompson wiped tears from her eyes.
One of her relatives, Dorothy Thompson, said she did not understand how Shenestia could prove she inherited the property when Thomas Brooks left no will. Latimer said chancery clerks routinely help families with such issues even without a will, and Commissioner Ira Loveless later explained the process.
“What you’d have to do is get everybody (in the family who could be an heir) in a room and get them all to agree,” Loveless said. “You’ve got an expanding tree.”
Latimer added, “That’s why it’s important to get a lawyer, so he can track the tree all the way down.”
Emison said a key reason the commission could not recommend approval of the re-zoning is because the uncertain ownership makes it possible other members of Shenestia’s family with claims to the property might oppose the re-zoning.
“Even setting (the re-zoning issue) aside, you surely ought to get and establish who owns this property,” Emison said. “In the future, if you want to sell this property ... you will run into this exact problem. Believe me, this is in your long-term interest to sort this out. I wish we didn’t have to do this. I truly wish we didn’t, but there could be truly large problems.”
Another question Dorothy raised was why the issue of ownership had never come up before.
“We didn’t have any idea of this,” Dorothy said “She already had a home here for eight years.”
Keith Collier, a neighbor, said Shenestia was only trying to do what was best for her family.
“If she wasn’t trying to take care of her family, you would lock her up,” Collier said. “It hurts me to look over across the street because she’s living somewhere else. This is a child of God. Take care of her.”