Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More on the Development Code Saga

For background on this issue, see my previous posts: Rape and Mutilation of the Waterfront and Save the Waterfront - Continued.

Tonight, at the recommendation of Walter Brown, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen voted to amend the City Charter to allow for the changes in the composition of the new Natchez Planning Commission as proposed in the new Development Code. No one opposes the new composition that I know of. Look for the amendment to appear in the paper (probably the Legal Section), since it must be published. I don't think anyone but Walter Brown has actually seen the wording.

In testimony at the hearing and in written comments submitted to the Planning Department, I suggested 6 changes for consideration. Since none of the changes were adopted or discussed at the recent meeting and since I don't think the members of the two Commissions had even seen my written comments, I mailed copies to all the members at their homes. Five of the changes I proposed are noncontroversial and are just common sense suggestions. However, one change is significant, and I reproduce for you below. Both Commissions (Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment) will be meeting together next week, and I hope they at least consider my recommendations.


Waterfront District 1 – Historic District
Uses By Right:
Accessory Use or Structure, Antique Store, Art Gallery or Museum, Auditorium, Barber Shop or Beauty Shop, Casino, Condominium, Liquor Store, Museum, Planned Unit Development, General Restaurant, Signs, Specialty Retail Shop.
Uses By Exception: Bars or Nightclubs, Micro-Brewery (Brew Pub), Nightclubs, Offices other than medical, Residential Over Commercial, Resource Extractions

Waterfront District 2 – Not Historic District
The same except Condominiums are By Exception and Residential Over Commercial is not allowed.


This is the most troublesome part of the proposal.

To start with, it makes no sense to have the historic part of the Waterfront have less restrictions than the nonhistoric part.

Casinos, Condominiums, Liquor Stores, and Planned Unit Developments have no business being in our historic Waterfront District by Right. By Exception, fine, but definitely not by Right.

This is the only district with NO maximum lot coverage, and except for B3, the only district with no minimum yard requirements. This district is allowed a maximum building height of 75’, which is higher than all districts except B3 and I-1. This is ludicrous, since it can cut off all view of the river, our main attraction.

There is no planning vision reflected in these proposals. Is the whole waterfront going to taken up by wall to wall 75’ condominiums and casinos, as will be allowed by this proposal?


Waterfront District 2 could stay as in except to definitely include Residential Over Commercial either by Right or Exception.

However, Waterfront District 1 should NOT have Casinos, Condominiums, Planned Unit Developments, and Liquor Stores by Right. These uses must be by Exception. This is a precious historic area of our city that must be preserved. Anything less is a crime of immense proportions.

Most importantly, the maximum building height must be lowered to 35’, and there must be minimum yard requirements and maximum lot coverage. Without a view of the river, Natchez looses its major attraction.

It can be expected that our Mayor and Board of Aldermen may put these back in the new Development Code. However, for the Planning Commission, the Planning Director, and the Consultant to recommend it is totally unprofessional.

PS. These Commissions are not rubber stamp groups, and they are willing to voice their opinion. At the meeting last week, they had the wisdom and courage to deny Walter Tipton's request to have electronic signs at the Convention Center. Their reasoning was that the code could not just grant this right to the Convention Center - such a move would immediately be struck down by the courts. Then all businesses downtown would have the right to have electronic signs, and that would destroy the character of downtown. They did allow the signs away from the historic district. So Walter Tipton could put his signs at the Visitors Center, if he wanted. Special appreciation should be given to Ed Godfrey, Chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustments, who was brilliant in his arguments, and to Karen Stubbs, who was serving as Chair of the Planning Commission, who initially raised the issue and continued to pursue it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What's a Good Circuit Clerk Anyway?

I know some of you thought I would have written about this before now, but I've been wrapped up in the proposed Natchez Development Code. Everyone is talking about Binkey, and no one is paying attention to the new Code, so I felt like my efforts belonged there. But I couldn't let such a good story go forever without commenting.

As you all undoubtedly know, our esteemed Circuit Clerk, Binkey Vines, was indicted on 13 counts of embezzlement of $228,760 of taxpayer money. That's not small potatoes! Then on Friday, May 4, he pled guilty, but through some bizarre ruling by a judge in another county, he basically got off with a slap on the wrist. He can still serve and run for reelection! For details, see the initial story in the Natchez Democrat.

This is my favorite Binkey quote:

"I’m a good circuit clerk, and I’m a bad bookkeeper.”

This leads me to the title of this article - what's a good circuit clerk anyway? According to the Mississippi Official & Statistical Register, the Circuit Clerk is the chief officer of the Circuit Clerk and the chief elections officer. Basically, the Circuit Clerk is an administrator of two very important functions of county government. So what is a good administrator? According to the dictionary, it's someone who manages or has a talent for managing.

So are you a good manager if you:
  1. Misplace almost $230,000 - especially when that amount is about equal to the annual gross income of your office? Think of your annual salary, and then try to imagine misplacing that amount of money.
  2. Fail to file annual reports with the State that are required by law for several years running? Try to imagine not filing your income tax returns for one year, never mind several years.
  3. Still have not filed the latest report? If only Uncle Sam was so lenient.
  4. Blame an employee who was out sick for all your problems? Was she sick for three years?
  5. Refuse to accept any responsibility for misdeeds? He is totally innocent, since this is all a sinister political plot by his enemies.
  6. Consistently get "findings" (bad reports) in your annual financial audit and don't even bother to respond? Sort of like getting failing grades on your report card and totally ignoring them.

I'm sorry, but this man is not only a bad bookkeeper, but a bad Circuit Clerk. Actually, "bad" is not a strong enough word - I prefer abhorrent, appalling, atrocious, awful, beastly, dangerous, desperate, dire, disastrous, disturbing, dreadful, extreme, fearful, frightful, ghastly, gruesome, harrowing, hateful, hideous, horrendous, horrible, horrid, horrifying, loathsome, monstrous, obnoxious, odious, offensive, petrifying, repulsive, revolting, rotten, serious, severe, shocking, terrible, unnerving, unpleasant, unwelcome, vile. Oooh, I like that last word - Vile Vines!!

Do you really want Vile Vines in charge of your elections? Do you want Vile Vines managing your courts of law? YUCK - NO!! Anyone who still votes for this man is either missing a few brain cells or is not in contact with reality.

ADDENDUM: How could I have forgotten? Are you a good manager if you keep bouncing checks to repay loans? And how does he solve this problem? By cutting staff, of course! I wonder if that poor sick bookkeeper is one of them. (See article and editorial in Democrat.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Save the Natchez Waterfront - Continued

In November 1999, Natchez adopted a Comprehensive Plan, which is required by state law. And it was done the right way, by professionals utilizing an incredible array of data and research and with ample opportunity for public input. It is very well written and makes interesting reading. There is a copy available at the Library, and I recommend it to you. In the Introduction, there is a wonderful statement, which they bolded for emphasis:

A community desperate for development without regard to the quality of that development will not be able to successfully compete with communities that are more concerned with the quality of development and other quality of life issues.

Does this make you think of our Mayor and Board of Aldermen?

After establishing Goals, Objectives, Policies, and Principles, the Plan then lays out a Land Use Plan, complete with map. By state law, all zoning decisions must be based upon the adopted Land Use Plan, as well as the policies outlined in the Comprehensive Plan. So far as I know, the Comprehensive Plan adopted in 1999 has not been amended. Therefore, the proposed Development Code must be based upon the Plan. But is it?

The map of the Land Use Plan is large, and I could not copy it all. However, I did copy one section.

The red line sticking into the river is the bridge, which is the southern boundary of Waterfront District 1 (WD1). The red line that veers off to the right is Canal Street. The street above that is Broadway, which is the eastern boundary of WD1. The river is of course the western boundary. If you follow Canal Street you'll see two small red rectangles. Right on the other side is Madison Street, which is the northern boundary of WD1.

Two interesting things about WD1 on this map.

First, it's a little hard to see, but there are 3 shades of green on the map designated for Parks: the darkest (not in WD1) is for public parks, the light green is the National Historic Park, and the middle shade is for parks and open space. I didn't see any mention of open space in the proposed Development Code.

Secondly, the rest of WD1 is pink, as is most of the downtown area. These are the Preservation Districts. This designation is to protect the architectural and historic integrity of Natchez. Two of these districts are in WD1, and this is what is said about these two districts in the Plan.

  1. Natchez on Top of the Hill Historic District. Mixed Use by Right: Single family detached residential with "indoor only" commercial uses. Uses by Exception: farmer's market stalls, single family residential uses upstairs above commercial uses on the first floor, single family residential units on the first floor with street frontage, and multiple family uses. Compare this list of rights and exceptions to the one in the proposed Development Code (see my previous article).
  2. Natchez Bluffs and Under the Hill Historic District. "Indoor only" commercial uses only by Right. Uses by Exception: multiple family residential. Single family detached residential use is not permitted by Right or by Exception.

Just to make matters worse, look at the Waterfront District 2 (WD2), which is south of the bridge. This area is red, which is General Commercial. Now compare that to the proposed Development Code, which is more or less like WD1, only more restrictive. (Why in the world is the historic waterfront district less restrictive than the non historic???)

I don't know about you, but I think the 1999 Comprehensive Plan did a very good job, and I only wish our proposed Development Code matched it. I know the law says it has to, but this is Natchez where the law doesn't seem to matter. If the Mayor and Board of Aldermen adopt the proposed Development Code, I predict some lawyers will be very busy.

UPDATE: One of my lovely friends has provided me with a copy of the 1999 Comprehensive Plan and the map that goes with it. Since files cannot be attached to blogs, I have posted them on my website.

UPDATE 2: The Planning Commission met tonight. The good news is that final implementation will be delayed. They will make recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen at their first June meeting, with the suggestion that their final approval come during the second meeting in June. The code would then go into effect on August 1. The most interesting news came via Walter Brown, who said the City Charter (basically it's constitution) would have to be amended before the Code could go into effect. This requires at least a 60 day delay. I have a copy of the final draft, and I will write more later. There will be an article in the Natchez Democrat Friday morning detailing some of the discussions.