By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Mayor Jack Reed Jr. on Friday issued the first veto of his administration, opposing the City Council’s decision to allow a car dealership to install a sign twice the size allowed by city regulations.
The council voted 4-3 Tuesday to side with a spokesman for Carlock Toyota to allow a sign larger than any other displayed in the Barnes Crossing shopping area at its location near Highway 45. Five votes would be required to override Reed’s veto and sustain the council’s decision.
Tupelo’s planning commission rejected allowing the larger sign at the group’s March meeting, an action endorsed by the city’s planning department.
In his veto message, Reed said allowing the larger sign for the company would have created an unfair advantage and could have jeopardized the attractiveness of the area, a part of the city covered by stricter ordinances called an overlay district.
“I honestly believe that denying this appeal will ultimately be in the best interest of Toyota – both the retailers and the manufacturing company – because of the resentment the decision would have brought from the other businesses in the Overlay District, and throughout the city, with claims of favoritism,” Reed’s statement said.
To be clear he supported Toyota’s presence in the region, Reed pointed out in his veto message that he drives a Prius.
“I drive it with pride,” he said.
Philip Waters, director of corporate services for Carlock Toyota, told city leaders at Tuesday’s meeting that the larger sign was requested by the Toyota corporation and would symbolize the relationship between the city and company, which opened an $800 million auto manufacturing plant in 2011 in nearby Blue Springs.
Emily Wilemon-Holland, a spokeswoman for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi, said that “the request didn’t come from us.”
Multiple calls seeking clarification from Carlock Toyota were not returned.
When informed of the council’s approval for a larger sign, Byron Irby, general manager for Metro Ford in the Barnes Crossing area, said he planned to request a larger sign.
“If the city is approving a bigger sign for them, we’ll want one the same size,” Irby said. “We’ll have to play by the same rules.”
The Carlock dealership had previously requested an even larger sign but was denied by the council.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Waters said the Toyota dealership was ranked first among Carlock dealerships in Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.
City Council members Markel Whittington of Ward 1, Jim Newell of Ward 3, Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7 sided with the auto dealership Tuesday. Councilmen Fred Pitts of Ward 2, Jonny Davis of Ward 5 and Mike Bryan of Ward 6 supported the planning commission’s recommendation to deny the variance.
Whittington said he supported the larger sign since the dealership is hard to view while driving north along Highway 45.
To override Reed’s veto, two-thirds of the council – or five members – would need to oppose it, requiring at least one councilman to change his mind.
Jonny Davis applauded the veto and plans to stand behind opposition to the sign.
“I will not change my vote,” Davis said. “I think it was the right thing to do in the first place.”