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Council OKs Colonial Highlands rezoning over threat of appeal

By JACK WEATHERLY

The Jackson City Council voted 4-0 on Monday to approve the rezoning of the former Colonial Country Club so it can be redeveloped as a $250 million traditional neighborhood with a commercial aspect.

However, the vote came after a threat from a property owner “to fight this plan to the hilt” if certain changes were not made.

Ward 4 Councilman De’Keither Stamps said he did want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and urged critics and proponents to seek a middle ground with the owner of the 152-acre plot, Colonial Jackson LLC.

Bo Lockard, manager of the group, said in a January interview that work could start in the summer and be open for business in 2017, barring an appeal.

But Bob Gilchrist, who owns two rental houses on Parkway Drive, which would be on the western side of the project, said that owners and its architect, Steven Oubre’, had ignored complaints about the commercial aspect.

Joe Pennington, who lives on Parkway Drive, said that on-street parking and increased traffic would devalue his property.

The city Planning Board voted 10-0 on Feb. 24 to recommend that plan.

Developers and proponents of the project support a study that found that it would enhance property values in the area in northeast Jackson surrounding what has been called the last major residential site in the city.

The city’s population has been shrinking in recent decades, losing residents to Madison and Rankin counties. Consequently, the city’s tax base has shrunk.

James Peden, attorney for Colonial Jackson LLC, said that he has come before the City Council for 45 years. “This case is probably the most important case I’ve brought before this council” because it would be the first of its kind under the new zoning designation and because of its size and tax revenue, Peden said.

The master plan submitted to the city calls for 636 living units – 60 percent of which are single-family detached, 24 percent rental apartments and 15 percent single-family attached and apartments for sale – a grocery store, a restaurant, shops and a fitness club.

Peden said that certified letters were sent to 188 residents in the area contiguous to the project and 11 homeowners associations.

“I think it’s fair to say that the project has overwhelming support,” Peden said.

Gilchrist said that while he and many others are pleased with the residential part of the plan, the commercial aspect would create a problem, primarily the increased traffic and adverse impact of it on the Parkway Drive residences.

He said he had provided the city with hundred of letters opposing the commercial aspect, which, he contended, would bring “unwanted people in.”

He added that “apartments just don’t seem to fit our mould,” he said.

Gilchrist said that comments made by some area residents at public meetings in October were ignored.

He suggested that maybe the council could approve some of the plan and hold off on the some of it till something could be worked out.

Joe Pennington, a retired engineer who lives at 112 Parkway Drive, said that the owners of the old golf course want to use the street as access to the commercial development because it would save them $400,000, the cost he said it would require to build another road.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote, who represents residents in that area, asked Pennington if he would be satisfied if the developer agreed to put in another road, on the eastern side of the 7.7 acres that had been a golf driving range.

Pennington said said that if, as the plan calls for, Parkway Drive were not extended, and  through traffic to the two cul-de-sac streets to access the commercial property were restricted and the apartments were relocated, he would be satisfied.

Stamps asked Eric Jefferson, director of the planning and development department, if the city has any investment in the project, and Jefferson said he was not aware of any.

David Ford, who lives one street over from Parkway Drive, said residents of that street have valid concerns but the points they make are overstated.

Some are wrong, he said. For one, Parkway Drive is one of several entry points to the development.

Rosemary Porter, who said she is a retired mortgage loan officer for a major bank, said that if the commercial aspect were moved into the middle of the homes for sale, there could be a problem with qualifying for loans for homebuyers through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two federal mortgage lenders, as well as a threat to homeowners on Parkway Drive if they wanted to take advantage of a reverse mortgage.

Foote said that the project is “great opportunity for Jackson” but “it’s important that we don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

Foote and Stamps were joined by Tyrone Hendrix, Ward 6, and Margaret Barret-Simon, Ward 7 in favor of rezoning. Absent were Kenneth Stokes, Ward 3, Charles Tillman, Ward 5 and Melvin Priester, Ward 2.

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