Last Thursday, I wrote an article about the new Comprehensive Plan being proposed for Natchez, in which I outlined the history of this project. I want to emphasize how important this plan is - because it determines the future of development in Natchez. The Natchez Democrat has an editorial about it today, but for some reason, it's not on their website.
The City Planning Office has set aside today and tomorrow to show the Plan to the public and to answer their questions. If you didn't go today, make a point to go tomorrow between 10 am and 7 pm in the City Council Chambers. The original notice said it was only for today, but that was a mistake. They're available tomorrow as well. The staff was very nice and answered all my questions. They have available for you to take with you a summary of the plan, which lists all the districts and the uses allowed in them. If you want to play around with the districts, you can use my spreadsheet, which I described in the earlier article.
What there are no copies of is the plan itself and the maps. These will not be available until after they're approved. Of course, that's too late for the public to make comments. Believe me, no one is going to sit in that room and read that whole 193 page document - and it's very difficult to do a good job of studying the map also. I think if they really wanted public input, they would have made both the document and the maps available online.
Reasonable people could disagree over the districts and their uses, as well as the drawing of the districts, and they definitely could use a little tweaking. However, in my opinion, there is a fundamental flaw in the implementation.
One of the objectives of the Comprehensive Plan was to provide for predictability, since new businesses and residents rely on that. No one wants to move into a lovely residential neighborhood and then have a loud bar move in next door. Businesses almost always look at zoning codes prior to investing in a new business. Who wants to open an upscale boutique and then have a hog farm appear right next to you?
Our current system allows way too many ways around the zoning to ensure predictability. The new plan was supposed to accomplish two things. One was to eliminate the need for variances for use, which Natchez allows far too often. A use would either be allowed in a certain district or not - no variances allowed. A second was to remove politics from the whole process, because everything would be very clear. However, as I read the Plan, all decisions would be made by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. It looks like the Planning Commission can only "review and recommend." It's almost like the Planning Commission holds the hearing, but the Board makes the decision. I hope I have misunderstood that part, because it's key.
It's your city, and if you care about its future development, you'll make it your business to understand this new code.