Ed Godfrey, Vice Chair of the Planning Commission, sent this letter to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen and is reprinted here with permission.
I was first appointed to the Natchez Board of Adjustment in 1992. After fifteen years on the Board of Adjustment it was merged with the Metropolitan Planning Commission to form the Natchez Planning Commission, of which I am Vice-Chairman. I have worked with seven city planners and can state that John R. Lewis is the most qualified planner we have had since James Shelby. Mr. Shelby left for a better position in Jackson before eventually becoming a city planner in Atlanta. Fortunately John Lewis lived in Natchez for a few years in the 1970’s and fell in love with the city. He was willing to work in Natchez for less than he could make elsewhere and eventually retire here.
Your plans to gut the planning department would be a major step backward for the city of Natchez. There is not a more qualified planner available; if fact it’s questionable you could find even an unqualified one willing to take a chance on a city which has had four planners in the last six years. Is that what you feel is the best we can do in Natchez? . I can’t believe the Board of Aldermen would support a system where a person could open a bar next to a church without a hearing.
Mr. Lewis inherited a disjointed planning department and has worked hard to bring it around. The job of city planner is tough in any city as there is always a sizable segment of the population who think that they should be able to do anything with their property, and take it out on the planner when he tries to explain the codes and zoning ordinances of a particular city. In the last seventeen years I’ve received numerous complaints concerning all seven planners I’ve worked with; generally developers complaining about being asked to comply with city codes and ordinances and neighbors opposing projects neat their homes or businesses. And the city planner is always in the middle.
Natchez enacted a new development code in January, 2008, and hired John Lewis to enforce it. He has done just that and written amendments to the new code when it needed to be adjusted. He has worked 50-60 hour weeks to improve the planning department and have it functioning properly. Prior to his arrival public notification of various special exception and zoning requests was limited, members of our various commissions received information for our monthly meeting too late to investigate the requests and our decisions were often tabled for lack of information. Since we meet monthly the volunteer members of the commissions often had to agree to called meetings to keep developers from waiting another month to begin a project
Please do the right thing and retain John Lewis as our city planner.