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.
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?