Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Fat Mama's Saga

Part One

Fat Mama's, now located on Canal Street, bought property on the corner of Canal and Washington. They then went to the Planning Commission to request a rezoning of the property to B-2. The residents and property owners in the adjoining residential area were opposed. The Planning Commission, in what I thought was a brilliant move, proposed a compromise: rezone the property to B-1, which is for businesses in residential areas. Fat Mama's would have been able to open a business very similar to what they have now. The neighbors would not have been happy, but if Fat Mama's had worked with the neighborhood, I think a workable solution could have been reached.

However, Fat Mama's got greedy. They wanted a drive through window and a warehouse, which are not allowed under B-1. Mind you, they don't have them now, but they wanted to expand and improve their business. So they had a choice. They could have built at another location in a B-2 district. Or they could have accepted their limitations, designed the facility to allow for future expansion, showed themselves to be good neighbors, worked with the residents, and convinced them the expansion would be a good thing. If Fat Mama's had taken either of these choices, that would have been the end of the story - and with a happy ending.

Instead, Fat Mama's said "screw you" to the residents. We're political bigwigs, and we'll just go to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen and tell them to override the Planning Commission. There was a public hearing on the issue. One hundred percent of the residents in the area signed a petition against the B-2 zoning. Immediately after the hearing, without discussion (so you know it was all decided ahead of time), the Board voted to overrule their own Planning Commission and granted a B-2 zoning. When was the last time you heard of an elected body going against all residents? They were so incredibly arrogant that they thought they could do anything they wanted.

Some residents filed suit, and it was finally resolved in favor of Fat Mama's, because the Court was reluctant to rule against elected officials. In the meantime, Fat Mama's received preliminary approval for site plans by the city's Preservation and Planning Commissions. It was on the basis of these plans that the Court ruled.

Part Two

Fat Mama's began construction, but they discovered some sort of underground drainage structure right where their building was to be, and they couldn't build above it. So, they just moved the building. One minor problem - they neglected to get approval for the new site plan. Can you believe that? The rest of us have to get approval for a stair railing or a new color for our shutters, but these yahoos think they can move a building without approval. Incredible!

The City (maybe because it was an election year) issued a stop work order on May 1. Did they stop? No, they continued to do work. I guess some people think they are above the law, and rules don't apply to them.

The Preservation Commission had a specially called meeting tonight. The meeting began with the new City Planner, John Lewis, presenting a summary of the situation and listing the problems that needed to be addressed. Right away, you knew something was different. For the first time in years, we had a professional planner, and it showed. As he listed all the problems, I was appalled. There was a long list of requirements in the original site plan that had been totally ignored. And these weren't small things either: moving a building 50 feet, using concrete instead of grass, missing shrubbery and landscaping, having exits that weren't there before, etc.

That professional presentation was followed up by a masterful presentation by the Commission Chair, Marty Seibert. She said the Commissioners had visited the site and had agreed on what their major concerns and recommendations were, which she then went over. She bent over backward to tell Fat Mama's that the Commission's goal was to work with them to help the construction continue as quickly as possible. However, her message to them was very clear though polite: they must follow the rules and procedures.

Neither Fat Mama's nor the public had much to say. Fat Mama's did say they thought they could comply with the requirements. They will submit a revised site plan for approval at the Commission's regular meeting next Wednesday, May 14, at 5:15.

I smell a breath of fresh air in Natchez. Wonder if Tuesday's election had anything to do with it?


Anonymous said...


(1) Did the site plan that was originally approve meet the city requirements?

(2) Was the drainage easement/canal shown on the original site plan that was approved by the City?

(3) Did the City Engineer review and approve of the original site plan?

(4) If so, why did he not compare the information on the original site plan with the city infrastructure maps?

(5) Why blame the planning department? Isn't the engineering department responsible for reviewing the infrastructure related elements of the site plans?

(6) Why wasn't a stop work order issued earlier?

(7) If the building is 50 feet off, surely the City Building Inspector knew this. Doesn't he have to approve of the setbacks before construction is allowed to begin?

(8) Since site plans have to be approved by the planning commission, why isn't Fat Mama's required to go back to the planning commission for a variance?

(9) Why hasn't Fat Mama's been fined for violating the site plan and preservation ordinances?

Anonymous said...

Your statement "I smell a breath of fresh air in Natchez. Wonder if Tuesday's election had anything to do with it? " is soooooo off the mark. Ask MiMi and Ron what City official is trying to correct the problem.
You've gotten mad on an issue and put blinders on. It has tarnished your view so much that you appear to be making these up.

Anonymous said...

Casey, I think you are being TERRIBLY unfair. You seem to be representing the "Fat Mamas" as some lousy, greedy (your word), hateful, etc etc degenerates who shouldn't even be allowed to roam the streets of Natchez.

You've allowed yourself to be blinded by everything because of your friendship with Ron and Mimi (great people, by the way).

I do feel for them, as I wouldn't want to live next door to a busy business. But, they CHOSE to live in the HEART of downtown. You'll bring up the zoning issue here, but you seem to twist it to your own satisfaction.

The Gammills are not some political powerhouse, as you seem to refer.
They are wonderfully kind, sweet people. They're just trying to run a business and make a living.

They also have the unique pleasure to have a strong local following as well as being a strong tourist draw.

Mrs. Gammill is one of the nicest people you could meet in this town. That alone, it one of the biggest reasons I am even spending my time commenting here.

Please quit bashing the Gammills because your friends didn't get their way.

The Millers bullied (maybe a strong word, but I couldn't think of another suitable one) neighbors into signing a petition early on in this whole ordeal.

I know several who DID NOT want to sign but did because they felt pushed into it.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that if the court decision was based on the approved plan, then they should go back to court.

First, there should be a court issued injunction to prevent further work (since FM is ignoring the city's Stop Work Order).

Next, the court should reconsider its decision on the B2.

FM should be fined at a minimum.

I'm very disappointed in the Gammills.

Anonymous said...

I was unfamiliar with the site plans, agreement, etc to do with Fat Mamas. However, when construction began I thought to myself it was far more intrusive and unattractive than I would have
expected. Now I understand why it struck me that way, 50 ft and an illfavored barn like structure does make a profound difference to the area.

Anonymous said...

I made a post yesterday concerning the "perception" that people have towards the preservation committee. That post was not put up on the blog, I suppose it was too negative or hit too close to home to this board's moderator. But the idea behind my post was that the average Natchezian has a negative perception of the historical groups and they don't distinguish between any of them. They are one in the same. It's a public relations problem.

My point is proven today by the amount of negative comments towards the Commission in the blog arena of the Democrat's story today. Amazing. The headline didn't help the Commission either. The headline should have read "Fat Mama's in Violation" instead, the subheading read something like "Commission unhappy" basically.

I attended the meeting last night. And I have to admit, the Commission was very diplomatic towards Fat Mama's, opposed to my comments and beliefs I wrote about yesterday. I'm not sure if they are doing this because of the election changes or if they've always been this accomodating.

Regardless, my point was they are perceived (justified or not) of being elitist who seem to not like progress. Marty, like her or not, is perceived negatively also. I can tell you by attending the meeting, Fat Mama's (and I love 'em) is in multiple violations, almost to an embarrassing degree. It's actually quite unbelievable.

The Miller's (God love em) have a legit complaint. I actually feel sorry for them. I go back to my post (not posted) yesterday. The historical groups have a SERIOUS public relations issue right now. Fat Mama's has basically pushed the law aside, and the average Natchezian is on their side. Doesn't make any sense?

I sincerely believe that if the Commission doesn't do something about their perception soon, they will, in fact, be rendered totally powerless and useless in the future.

Anonymous said...

To only prove my "Public Relations" issue, check out the Democrat's online poll, over 70% of the people polling believe Fat Mamas should continue construction as they like. 70%!!!!!! That poll, while small, pretty much sums up the average Natchezians opinion of the Commission. It should not be that way.

Anonymous said...

Allowing Fat Mamas to break rules means that one tax payer is privileged over another. It's that simple. They are only being asked to follow the stated guidelines of our community. Thank goodness we have a Preservation Board with guts and a board of aldermen who have finally developed a backbone.

Anonymous said...

I agree with 11:54. The Gammills are wonderful people and Casey you are painting them to be some evil political shady group that is purposely ignoring the city's stipulations. I think nothing could be farther from the truth!

Their son has moved back to Natchez and is attempting to open a business where he can make an honest living at a very hard business. Most young people can't move back because there's nothing here for them and now, after this group has villianized the Gammills I doubt any young person will attempt to move back to Natchez and open a business.

It seems no one knew of this drainage problem and if the city engineer had informed all parties of this before the plans were implemented then this could've been avoided. I do not think this is the fault of the Gammills.

The Millers and the other neighbors live one block from the busiest downtown street in Natchez. So a business is being built on this street, that it backs up to residences, is just something that can't be avoided. Things change, that's life. I say adapt to it. I believe the Gammills have offered to build a tall fence between FM and the Millers.

It sounds like the Gammills are attempting to work with the city and the residences in meeting the necessary requirements.

No one doubts the wonderful work the Millers have done for Natchez but that doesn't give them the power to regulate what is built near their property.

I wish these people would put their money, time and energy into some of the dilapidated houses and buildings in the downtown historic district.

Anonymous said...

The Gammills knew when they opened Fat Mama's in 1992, that it was a temporary thing because of the Park Services' acquisition of the Canal Street Property. They have had 16 years to find a permanent location. Smoot's Grocery on Broadway and The Wharfmaster under the hill are just two of the properties purchased by this family in that time period. That is a matter of public record. How sad that they chose to ignore the Washington Street neighborhood's objections which were 100%, at least sad for the neighbors but of course, they only live there.

Anonymous said...

Good idea! It would have been wonderful if they had put some time, energy and investment in a dilapidated building downtown for their restaurant/bar. They could have prided themselves on leaving a smaller foot-print. That building along Broadway which was once Smoots Grocery would have been perfect. I was hoping that would happen. It would have added so much more character to their business.

Anonymous said...

who wants their children to move back to a community where peoples' property rights and values are held in total disregard?

Anonymous said...

i wonder why my last comment was not posted? I don't think it was vulgar or tasteless..

Anonymous said...

10:59pm bring out some excellent points!

Willie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.