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Jackson’s Colonial Highlands moves into business phase

By JACK WEATHERLY 

The at-times stormy effort to redevelop the former Colonial Country Club in Jackson has settled into the business phase.

Bo Lockard, manager of Colonial Jackson LLC, which owns the property and is overseeing the development, said Tuesday that the Neel-Schaffer engineering firm has been hired and that conversations with potential developers are underway.

“We are working toward negotiating contracts by the end of the summer,” Lockard said.

If things go well, site preparation should start next year, he said in a telephone interview.

The $250 million project – which calls for 636 units, most of which would be free-standing traditional homes, along with attached homes and apartments for sale or lease – has gotten what an attorney for the developers called “overwhelming support,” and an opportunity to raise home values in northeast Jackson.

The architect for the project, Steven Oubre’, is a leading proponent of what is called New Urban living.

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

The project got Planning Board approval in February and City Council stamp of approval in April as a traditional neighborhood, from special use, which is reserved for golf course, parks, churches and other community assets. Mayor Tony Yarber signed off on the project in May, Lockard said.

Some had raised objections about the retail aspects – including a 35,000-square-foot grocery and shops — of the project on the 152-acre former golf club, which closed in 2014.

Bob Gilchrist, who owns two houses on Parkway Drive, or the western boundary of the property, threatened to fight the project.

Now, he said in an interview on Tuesday, he and others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

“We aren’t going to file a lawsuit, Gilchrist said. “We’re just hoping that it will work for everybody. Property rights are the backbone of this country.”

The initial effort by the developers in early 2015 to move forward with a plan was a cause for bad blood and suspicion.

The developers sought to have the city change its zoning code to allow mixed-use development on land zoned for special use, such as parks, hospitals, churches and golf courses. That would have allowed commercial development in those lands without public hearings.

But at a showdown at City Hall with a angry standing-room-only crowd of residents convinced the council members that was not a good idea to pursue. The developers dropped that approach.

The developers had several public meetings later in the year with residents and met with Yarber and other city officials in developing a plan.

Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote said at the time that the developers made a “quantum leap” in diplomacy, adding that he was very favorably impressed, and hopes that it could give the area the same impetus that has been seen in “communities reinventing themselves, like Fondren and Belhaven.”

A study commissioned by Colonial Jackson LLC says that the build-out could take six years, though others have said that it could take considerably longer.

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