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Hearing held on appeal of Costco zoning

By JACK WEATHERLY

Madison County Circuit Court Judge John Emfinger held a hearing Monday of an appeal by homeowners in a protracted battle over the proposed building of a Costco Wholesale store in Ridgeland.

The nine plaintiffs contend that an amendment by the city to a commercial zoning ordinance amounted to “spot zoning” designed to accommodate Costco, and opening the door to other uses.

Such a change in zoning would only be justified if there were a “substantial change” in a neighborhood, Sheldon Alston, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Tuesday.

Plaintiffs contend that the Costco would create a traffic problem along Highland Colony Parkway, which is lined by office parks and upscale retailers.

But James Peden, an attorney assisting the city in its defense, said Tuesday that “spot zoning” would be like putting a convenience store in the middle of a residential development.

The plaintiffs live in upscale neighborhoods, the closest of which is nearly two miles from the site, according to the city.

The amendment, first executed in 2015 in what critics called a surreptitious manner, was redone in April 2016, out of “an abundance of caution,” Peden said.

But Alston argued in an earlier interview that the amendment would allow “gas stations, fast-food restaurants” and other things not in keeping with the upscale area, which is dominated by the Renaissance at Colony Park, which was opened in 2007.

Costco Wholesale stores sell gasoline, as do Sam’s Clubs.

The Costco-dominated 45-acre development would be the third phase of the Renaissance.

Andrew Mattiace, lead developer, received approval from the state to get a sales tax rebate of up to $29.6 million collected in the expansion, which would cost about $98 million.

Mattiace used the address of the open-air mall in the application, but Glenn McCullough, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, blocked Mattiace from transferring it to the third-phase location.

Subsequently, the city granted the developer a tax increment financing district to divert $12.5 million in taxes to go toward infrastructure.

Alston said he thought Emfinger would issue a ruling in a few weeks.

The losing side could appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which would extend the battle that began in November 2015, with the filing of the lawsuit.

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