Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Natchez Comprehensive Plan Is Important!

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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Mississippi Planning Enabling legislation provides that only the "elected" board (Board of Aldermen) can approve zoning related matters. The Planning Commission and/or Board of Adjustments and Zoning Appeals are advisory boards and they only make recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

Natchez has, for many years, operated without the final approval from the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. Only rezonings have received final approval by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen. Technically, if someone wanted to make a big mess, they could challenge every variance and special exception that was ever approved by the Zoning Board because it did not receive the final approval of the Mayor and Board.

You will not find the final approval of any variance or special exception by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen unless it was something that was appealed to them and they dealt with it in a board meeting and had to approve it.

Casey Ann said...

Anonymous 10:42. I've just read through Title 17, Chapter 1 of the MS State Code, and I don't see where it restricts all zoning decisions to the elected body. Could you please post the citation?

Anonymous said...

There is an Attorney General's opinion on it. Since the Mayor and Board of Aldermen are the ones who enacted the ordinance, they are the only "legal body" empowered to make changes, exceptions, etc.

Call the AG's office or ask any "real planner".

Anonymous said...

Our Current OFFICIAL "Comprehensive City Plan" is the "1999 Comprehensive City Plan" adopted in Nov of 1999 by the BOA. After the plan was adopted, the next step was to revised the Zoning Code to be in sync with the plan. This never happened.

It took FIVE YEARS to create the 1999 plan. As is required by state law, there was a series of public hearings, etc.

The Plan was prepared by the Central Mississipping Planning and Development District. The chief planner was Larry Smith (with CMPDD based in Jackson).

Mayor Butch Brown initiated the planning process with planners James Shelby and later David Preziosi. But under Mayor Hank Smith, the BOA succeeded in "ignoring" or "shelving" the plan because finally they had a mayor who agreed wtih them: Planning is the enemy of Progress. In frustration, planner David Preziosi resigned. I don't think Natchez has had a qualified city planner since Preziosi.

So, that was five years of work and public monies down the drain. The plan has been ignored from 1999 to 2007.

You can get a copy of the actual "Plan" in the city planner's office. Copies are $25. Or you can contact CMPDD in Jackson to purchase a copy.

State law requires that Zoning Codes be in sync with the Comprehensive City Plan.

Technically, every zoning decision made since 1999 that is not in agreement with the plan are in violation of State Law.

Anonymous said...

A Zoning Code is not the same thing as a Comprehensive City Plan.

The Plan comes first. State law requires public input, hearings.

The Zoning Code is designed to enable the Plan.

FYI.

Anonymous said...

The Zoning Ordinance is used the implement the Comprehensive Plan. Former City Planner Andrew Smith initiated the update of the Zoning Ordinance and suggested that all of the city's development regulations be put under one document, the new Development Code.

The City of Natchez is notorious for not following its guidelines. For years the various boards have approved variances (setbacks, density, and mobile homes) without the final approval from the Board and Mayor. Requiring a variance for a mobile home has been illegal because it is not in the ordinance. All of the mobile home variances have been ILLEGAL. The former city attorney knew this but used it as a way to keep them out of the city.

It is wonderful that the City of doing a new Development Code; however, if you do not follow the code you will never see Natchez develop as proposed by the Comprehensive Plan.

As recent as the last Zoning Board meeting, the City "screwed up" again. The Zoning Board issued a variance to allow the construction of residences in a B-2 zone. ILLEGAL!!!!!! Residences are not a permitted use in the B-2 zone and the application should have never been processed as a variance. The applicant should have been informed that the property would need to be rezoned to residential in order to accomodate the developer. THIS DID NOT HAPPEN!!!! I heard that someone has appealed the Zoning Board's decision and will appear at the meeting on next Tuesday night before the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

PLANNING IN NATCHEZ IS NOT IMPROVING. What you now have is someone who does not know the City's ordinances. The mistakes will prove costly if someone was to file a suit against the city.

Oh well.....,

tootenrosie said...

I can't imagine anyone is surprised that the law is isn't followed, it isn't in any other "city" issues. As for the state attorney general - well he IS an attorney.