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AWAITING ITS FATE: Gables complex may have to shrink to meet law

The Gables in Ridgeland

The Gables in Ridgeland

Having lost in a bid for a reprieve from Ridgeland city officials, The Gables apartment complex has started the new year with the prospect of having to demolish a number of units in order to meet new building density limits.

A zoning law adopted last February designates apartment complexes with over 10 units an acre as nonconforming uses that must “cease any use, condition, operation, or occupancy that makes it a nonconformity.”

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The Gables, a County Line Road market rent complex whose slightly more than 200 apartments cover 14.2 units an acre, is the first of a dozen and a half apartment complexes to seek a reprieve through the award of a Class A Categorical Nonconforming classification. Ridgeland denied the request, insisting the 10-units-an-acre density was in place before construction of the apartments and any subsequent density allowances are no longer valid.

The classification system included in the February 2014 zoning ordinance ranges from Categorical Class A Nonconformity to Administrative Class A to Class B Nonconformity and Class C Nonconformity.

letter-with-quote_rgbThe Categorical Class A Nonconformity would have bought The Gables some time. A drop to Class B or Class C could mean an order for demolition of some units – and dislocation of residents – is imminent.

Alan Hart, Ridgeland’s director of community development, said Monday he is awaiting guidance from the City’s specially hired land-use lawyer Kelly Simpkins. Hart said he is unsure when Simpkins will weigh-in on the issue, but added: “It shouldn’t be too much longer.”

Hart said he expects other nonconforming apartment complexes will be seeking their classifications through the rest of the year.

Lawyers for The Gables say the “amortization” period set out by the complex could run two years, five years, even 20 years.

Meanwhile, The Gables’ lawyers filed a Bill of Exceptions in Madison County Circuit Court last Friday. The complaint seeks to show Ridgeland made an incorrect determination in the classification denial.  It cites a 1999 zoning agreement, a 2002 zoning confirmation letter from former Ridgeland development director John M. McCollum and a 2003 Certificate of Occupancy The Gables’ lawyers say confirmed that a density of 14.2 units an acre would be allowed.

In its denial of a Class A classification, Ridgeland also cited an improper property setback – 50 feet required but the actual setback is 30 feet – and the absence of additional points for entering and leaving the complex.

Site plans submitted and approved in 1999, 2002 and 2003 “clearly reflect the as-built setbacks,” said attorney Ben Williams, whose firm Watkins & Eager represents The Gables.

Williams said city officials signed off on the various site plans without requiring the additional ingress and egress points.

Ridgeland’s letter of denial, which followed an October hearing, says The Gables built at its own risk “despite knowledge of the density limitations, setback and ingress/egress requirements.”

The denial letter, however, seems to support The Gables claim that building beyond the 10-unit-an-acre limit would be OK.  “Although the City allowed a maximum density of 15 units an acre, no evidence has been produced indicating that a variance was granted to the Gables regarding the ingress/egress requirements or the setback requirement.”

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About Ted Carter