I consider myself to be a wise woman, and unfortunately, that wisdom usually comes at a high price
**WARNING: Before you begin, this is a long post, filled with excitement, confusion, drama, frustration, tears, shock, determination, slander, racism, bullying, and ultimately – defeat
One year ago, together, our family made the decision to remove Xan from traditional schooling. There are a myriad of reasons, but racism was at the heart
With the help of a local Headmaster, we enrolled Xan in a virtual academy [AMAZING experience, with learning geared towards his passions, vs a standard curriculum]
As you can imagine, leaving a fifteen year old boy at home [alone] to do school work, would not have been very productive. Sooooo…off to work with me we go!!
After a few months, it was clear that there were too many distractions for him in our “bullpen” office. Around the same time, BB & PaPa Mike moved to Arkansas, and that meant MawMaw would be in Natchez, without immediate family
Will and I began to brainstorm. How could we improve Xan’s school surroundings, and offer a Starkville home for MawMaw?
Enter, 400 Greensboro
There are a million reasons we loved the home…. Will’s Mom lived on Louisville Street, a few homes down from #400, being from Natchez – a love for old homes is in my blood, it would allow for Xan to have his own classroom, MawMaw to have a one-level suite with walk-in shower, family to have access to a Bulldog Home, and a HOME for our Team [floor plan + decor in pics]
**Throughout the blog, you will see [email in pics] ; if you are curious to see each doc, please click here for Google Drive access
With excitement, we went straight to City Hall [June], to see if this was even a possibility. We met in the boardroom, calls, texts, and too many emails to count, and it was recommended that we apply for a Use Exception
With recap in hand, we emailed the City Planner [email in pics]
We waited four weeks for a response, but never received one, so we emailed again. In this email, it was recommended by a City Official that we broaden the term to “residential” versus “second home”. Why, you may ask? Because second home limits the usage to Will & I, “residential” would allow family members, short-term rental, etc. We never indicated that it would be our “primary residence” [email in pics]
The next week, we received an email stating “It sounds like you are doing a home occupancy, and not a professional office.” [email in pics]
On August 3rd, the City granted us a privilege license to move-in, and work out of Greensboro [license in pics]
We removed the “City must approve of planned use” contingency in the contract, and closed on the home a few weeks later
The day after closing… the City emailed, stating they had been informed that we “will not be living in the home, and recommended that we apply for a Use Exception” [what we originally requested]. This is when the first hint of confusion set in [email in pics]
Back to City Hall we went
After many calls, texts, and too many emails to count, the City recommended that we apply for a Use Exception [again, what we originally requested]. This is where it quickly “went to h*ll in a hand basket”
The City informed us they would place a sign in the yard, a newspaper ad, and notify the closest neighbors via snail-mail. I don’t know about you, but if it involves my HOME, I do not want to hear about it second-hand
Will, myself, and the Team quickly banded together, created a booklet with the “Who, What, Why”, and went door-to-door to invite the neighbors to an Open House at the home [booklet in pics]
Three neighbors attended
Two weeks later, the neighbors heavily opposed our second-home office occupation, and the Planning & Zoning Committee denied our request
This is where panic set in
We were in full-renovation mode, with tens of thousands invested in the reno, plus the $550K purchase price
Had the City not recommended we change our request from Use Exception, to Home Occupation, and had we been met with this much opposition, we would never have purchased the home…
One day after the Board of Alderman meeting, Code Enforcement made their first “visit” [hiding behind the neighbor’s bushes, and taking pictures]
That same day, a neighbor started coming by. She would come by, take pictures of the contractors, visitors, Teammates, and every vehicle’s license plate on the property
Then, she began blasting me as a “crook” on Facebook [SIDE NOTE: had she called me a b*tch, I wouldn’t have batted an eye, but a crook???? NO]
After several weeks, I went outside to visit her while she was on her daily rounds. She wasn’t very kind, but…something good did come out of it – she stopped walking over
Instead, she started driving by. How do we know? Aside from video cameras, we started hearing horns blowing at a certain time of day. She began parking on the main road, rolling her window down, and taking pictures with her flip-phone. It was so bad a few times, delayed traffic had to drive around her, into oncoming traffic. At this point, it became comical
However, she did finally pull the last straw. She took photographs of our minor, non-caucasian son, walking into our home for school. Would you like to know how intimidated a young-man is, when an older, white woman takes pictures of him, his car, his license plate, at his home? What about when he heard her yell, “You don’t belong here!!”
The day my son came inside, with shaking hands, quick-breaths, and asked, “Mom, am I not supposed to be here? Did I do something wrong?” That day, my friends, is the day I called legal counsel
Due to the overwhelm, BB & PaPa Mike drove into town to try and take our minds off of everything. It worked…almost. Since neighbor #1 had finally ceased with her behaviors, neighbor #2 took it upon herself to pick up the slack
As BB was out walking Buddy [yorkie], neighbor #2 came outside, took pictures of her in her robe, and told my Mom very snidely that she was “documenting everything” [per neighbor #1, the City requested the neighbors take daily pictures of our home]
That lasted for another two weeks
On November 17th, a plain-clothed Starkville Policeman came by to bait us into “working” out of Greensboro. He gave us his name, told us he was from out of town, and was looking to buy a home
[SIDE NOTE: we do not meet Clients at our Team office, and have not for the past 5+ years]
Unfortunately for him, we do not compromise our private space, and he was turned away. BONUS TIP: if you live in a small-town, and the person you are “baiting” has cameras at every angle of the property, and access to the internet, you may want to consider not driving your personal vehicle. Before he left the driveway, we knew his name, place of employment, who his significant other was, and what his home address was
The next day, we received a letter stating the privilege license had been revoked [letter in pics]
One week from that day, we placed our trash outside, and our “friends” took it – all of it…
FINALLY, the “main event”
On November, 28th, the City of Starkville Code Enforcement Officer, flanked by two armed Starkville Police Detectives, knocked on the door, and served us with a “warrant”
We stated 10+ times that the warrant was invalid, that we did not consent to a search of our home, and that they were trespassing. They entered anyway
When I asked “why” two detectives would attend a simple administrative warrant search, they shrugged, and said they were there to “keep the peace”. Y’all…. I’m a 40 something, basic, white-woman, with no record, yet – they sent TWO DETECTIVES to “keep the peace”
As they spent 2.5 hours opening every drawer in the home, taking pictures of every private item in the home, including prescription medications, feminine hygiene products, my son’s schoolwork, and the tortoise cage, they finally left
As we closed the door behind them, it started to sink in. We had just been served with a “warrant”, and had every inch of our home searched. My stomach was in knots…
We emailed the documents to legal counsel, and within minutes, he called back stating that it was in fact, NOT a warrant, but an affidavit requesting a warrant. Our attorney promptly notified the City of the issue at hand, and requested a copy of an executed warrant [affidavit in pictures]
Fifteen days later, we received a “nunc pro tunc” warrant. From my limited google search, it means “Whoops!! Just kidding – we did not really have a warrant, so we are going to ask Judge Kelley to “back-date” a warrant, for fifteen days prior to the illegal search” [REQUEST: if you can explain “nunc pro tunc” in words I can understand, I am all ears] [warrant in pictures]
Being a rational business woman, I decided to write everything down. The confusion, empathy for the neighbors, justification for the City’s actions – everything. Here is what I came up with:
The neighbors do not want the property being rezoned
– JUSTIFIED!! However, there was never a request to rezone the property. There was a request for a one-time use exception, and a request for a second-home office [no signage, no customers, etc, and that exception would immediately cease if we sold the property]
The City Planner declared he was unaware we would be using the home as a “second” home, and not primary [“Exhibit 2” in pics]
– I understand the confusion. When you spend two-weeks at Disney, and do not respond to your government employer’s work emails for 30 days, I can see how you would not read all emails thoroughly [SIDE NOTE: I do not think this justifies his error, just that I can see HOW it happened]
Did home values decrease?
– Nope. In fact, we paid above market value for the home, to INCREASE the area’s values
– We have received numerous compliments on how good the homes looks [before and after shots in booklet pics]
The City Planner requires a person to “live” in a home, before he will approve a Home Occupation license. When asked what does “live there” means, he keeps replaying the statement – “Live there.” [email in pics]
– Well… per Black’s Law [legal reference used in the City’s ordinances], the State of Mississippi, and the lovely IRS – I “live” in the home. The vast majority of my hours are spent at the home, I am registered to vote there, my car is registered there, homestead will be filed in January, I receive mail there, it is the closest home to my work, banking institution, place of worship, and my son’s school
The neighbors do not want a commercial property in their neighborhood
– JUSTIFIED!! But, it’s not. The home is 4,565 square feet. Per City ordinances, if we were to lease the home, we could have ONE OCCUPANT per 100sf. Meaning, 45 people could OCCUPY the home. In reality, it’s me, Xan, Will, a Teammate or two, and whichever sucker is joining us for the day’s lunch. The main floor is 100% residential, and there is not a workspace in sight [unless you count the pool table, and we do spend quite of bit of time there]. The second floor consists of one room, with a total of 420 square feet, being utilized as an “office”. To be fair, the Team does use a storage closet, and I assume 1/2 of the bathroom square footage should be counted as “office space”, so technically, I guess the office space equals 470 square feet [a little less than 1/9th of the property is being used as an “office”]
There are too many cars in the driveway!!
– I did not know I was limited to a certain number of vehicles in my private driveway, but ok, I’ll respond. YES, during the extensive renovation period, we had multiple different companies, in and out all day, every day, for months. The last crew was finishing up on the day the City served us with a “warrant” [they never finished; the “warrant” intimidated them, and they never returned…]. If you drove by today, you would see my car, Xan’s, Will’s, maybe Will’s work truck, and 1-2 Teammate vehicles [there are seven parking pads available on the main driveway, and four more out of street view]
The neighbors highly opposed the use exception, and notified the City that the “home does not meet the criteria for a use exception”
– Per the City Planner, the home meets EVERY criteria for a use exception [recap in pics]
Per the City Planner, a second-home owner cannot have a home office
– I’m sure working from home only impacts me, and no other second-home owners in Starkville, so I will sit this one out…
Per the City Planner, a “Home Occupation” privilege license is required to operate a home-office
– A neighbor emailed the City, and stated “Many of the neighbors have home offices, and work virtually from home”.. I wonder if they have a privilege license?
– A second neighbor emailed the City, and stated “Many of us in the neighborhood work from home, including myself. I work in XYZ, run a specially built XYZ computer system, and am a published author. All of this is done out of our home.”. I wonder if they have a privilege license?
– FUN FACT: as of the date we pulled it, Starkville had SEVENTY-FOUR home offices registered!! SEVENTY-FOUR!! For those of you with a home office, and if you are not in possession of a privilege license, has your home been subjected to a “search warrant”, issued by the City?
“This home deserves a FAMILY!! Mom, Dad, kids, and a dog!!”
– When is the last time this home had a “family” in it?? When Ms. Betsy was a child? Didn’t she live until she was 103?? So, that would have been HOW many years ago???? There hasn’t been a traditional “family” since then
– This home DOES, in fact, have a Mom, Dad, TWO kids, our Team Family, Waylon the Great Dane, two tortoises, and a partridge in a pear tree [kidding on that last one…]
– One of the three neighbors that accepted our invitation into the home stated “We looked at the house, loved it, but could not afford the $380K price, plus all of the renovations it would need” [SIDE – – NOTE: we paid $550K, PLUS invested for renovations – not many “families” can justify that expense]
– Are childless couples not a family? Is a single person not good enough for your neighborhood? Are retirees banned, or are they ok as long as they have children and grandchildren that fulfill your “family” requirements?
At the P&Z denial meeting, one neighbor kindly stated [not being sarcastic here, it was kindly stated], “We would love nothing more than to welcome the Arnetts into our neighborhood, if they live there…”
– Not touching on “live there” again; read above if you missed it
Since we improved property values, restored the home’s magnificence, have suitable parking [per City Planner], have not caused an undue nuisance or substantially increased traffic [per City Planner], are not detrimental, injurious, obnoxious, or offensive to the neighborhood [per City Planner], will not contribute to the decline in property values of surrounding properties [per City Planner], our use is consistent with the goals, objectives and policies of the City’s Comprehensive Plan [per City Planner], and all additional standards for the property have been adequately provided [per City Planner], I am left to wonder WHAT the actual, justified dilemma is????
FEAR? Is that it?
HATE? Is that it?
Whatever it is, whether we disturbed their idea of what a family is, fear, hate, or another reason that I cannot comprehend, we have been DEFEATED
Thank you to those who have been a shoulder to cry on, and thank you to those who have shown their true colors
The Team needs a new HOME, so if you know of a property that will accept our wide variety of characters, for who we are, please message me
As far as our plans for the home, it is time for us to put our money where our mouth is. Last year, I was featured in an article about Starkville’s home prices [the article made it to national news]. In the article, I discussed our real estate market, and how – unfortunately, we are pricing our hometown heroes out of homes. Our first responders, teachers, nurses, linemen, and our every-day American, cannot afford to live in the community they serve [in fact, I was chastised by locals for the article]
After much thought and prayer, Will and I have decided to turn our defeat, into a WIN for the community. We are unsure of the journey’s details, and welcome all of your prayers for us to provide a HOME for those in need
Will + Stephanie Arnett