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Rezoning refusal may result in lawsuit

AHOSKIE – Despite failing for a third time to have their property rezoned, two Ahoskie businessmen have vowed to continue the fight.

That battle may now head towards a showdown in a court of law as Shane Grimsley, along with his business partner Jacques Turner, has decided to follow the advice of his attorney and file a lawsuit against the town. The lawsuit will deal directly with alleged discrimination and spot zoning in lieu of the Ahoskie Town Council voting unanimously on Tuesday to deny Grimsley’s request to rezone his parcel of property, located in the 200 block of NC 42 West (located within Ahoskie’s zoning and planning district) from O&I (Office and Institutional to B-2 (Commercial).

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Turner confirmed that Grimsley had begun the documentation process necessary to filing a lawsuit. Turner added that the lawsuit would be filed against the Town of Ahoskie. He said the attorney was exploring an option to include, on the lawsuit, the names of each Town Council member in regards of the reasoning behind why they denied Grimsley’s rezoning request.

&uot;We didn’t want it to come to this, but we feel a lawsuit is the right thing to do in this case because we feel we have been discriminated against,&uot; stated Turner. &uot;We gave the Town Council ample time to do the right thing and they still shot down our request. We had two-to-one in support of our request (during Tuesday’s public hearing) and they still failed to do the right thing.&uot;

The &uot;right thing&uot; – at least according to the two businessmen – is Carolina Automotive Center, a used car, sales and service dealership located on a 1.69 acre lot just west of Ahoskie. Turner said the plans call for a half-million dollar facility, complete with four service bays, and approximately $1-to-$2 million in inventory. The dealership would employ approximately 15 workers.

&uot;This is not selling junk cars from under a shade tree,&uot; noted Turner. &uot;What we plan to sell are high-end, program cars – all 2000 models or better, with less than 12,000 miles, in the $10,000-to-$15,000 range. We also want to offer import vehicles, something not found in Ahoskie at this time.&uot;

However, what Turner and Grimsley have found in Ahoskie is opposition to their plans.

At Tuesday’s public hearing, Carolyn Gelot, Mandy Lassiter, Alma Peele and Peggy Piland each urged Council members to deny the rezoning request. Each said they were in favor of new business in Ahoskie, but were against a used car lot.

&uot;What needs to be placed there is something that will fit O&I,&uot; said Gelot whose husband owns an office building adjoining Grimsley’s property.

Lassiter said her family might want to sell some of their farmland, also near the same property, for residential lots at a later date and the fact that commercial property located nearby may prevent them from making those sales.

&uot;Please respect the families already living here and deny the request,&uot; said Piland.

On the other side of the aisle, auto dealers threw their support behind Grimsley’s venture.

&uot;They are competition, but competition is good for our business,&uot; noted Ed Strickland of Strickland Auto Group, also located on NC 42. &uot;I feel Town Council should be open-minded when it comes to bringing new business to town. I also feel that you are leaving yourself open to a lawsuit.&uot;

Bobby Jones of Riverside Auto Sales praised Grimsley and Turner as, &uot;good and fair people to work with.&uot;

Paul Jordan, manager of Mid-East Acceptance Corporation, said he was one of a few young men to come back to their native Ahoskie after leaving for college or other job opportunities.

&uot;Everyone asks me why I came back,&uot; he stated. &uot;All I ever hear is this is just the same old Ahoskie. I came back thinking I could help the town to grow. All I see growing is the number of people and businesses leaving town.&uot;

While addressing Council members, Turner alluded to the fact that car dealerships were located within close proximity to the east and west of Grimsley’s property. He said there was a bookstore nearby and a furniture store and funeral home located just across NC 42.

&uot;We were told the very first time we met with you that if we going to sell furniture, then that would be okay,&uot; Turner recalled. &uot;If that’s not discrimination, then I don’t know what is.&uot;

Grimsley said he remembered an earlier meeting with Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn.

&uot;She told us she wanted to see new business come to Ahoskie,&uot; said Grimsley. &uot;She told us she didn’t foresee a problem with our rezoning request being granted.&uot;

Grimsley said he knew trouble loomed when he alleged witnessing Elaine Myers (an Ahoskie Town Councilwoman) in the company of several rezoning opponents at an Ahoskie Planning Board meeting where the rezoning issue was discussed.

&uot;I don’t mean any disrespect to you, Mrs. Myers, but I did see you sitting at that meeting with those opposing my request,&uot; stated Grimsley. &uot;I think you should excuse yourself from voting on this issue.&uot;

In her defense, Myers said she made no prearrangements with anyone concerning where she sat at the planning meeting.

&uot;I am not aligned with those opposing this issue,&uot; stressed Myers.

&uot;Well, I’m not going away on this issue,&uot; Grimsley concluded.

Following the close of the public hearing, Councilman Ronald Gatling motioned to accept the recommendation of the Planning Board and deny Grimsley’s request. That motioned passed unanimously.