By JACK WEATHERLY
Madison County Circuit Court Judge John Emfinger ruled Friday that developers could move forward with plans to build a Costco Wholesale store on the Highland Colony Parkway – a plan hotly contested by homeowners.
On Monday, Sheldon Alston, attorney for the nine plaintiffs, said the ruling will be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Emfinger held a hearing March 20 on an appeal by homeowners in a protracted battle over the proposed building of a Costco Wholesale store in Ridgeland.
The plaintiffs in Beard et al v. City of Ridgeland contend that an amendment by the city to a commercial zoning ordinance amounted to special treatment to accommodate Costco, an upscale discounter.
The appeal extends the battle that began in November 2015.
Alston said, “We still think it’s a change in zoning, and we believe the Supreme Court will overturn the ruling. It’s disappointing, but it’s not the end of the fight.”
Emfinger wrote that “the Court finds that the amendment in question does not, by itself, allow any use in a C-2 district that was not allowed prior the amendment.” In fact, he held that the amendment “could apply to seventeen (17) different C-2 districts within the City.”
Emfinger wrote that while “the appellants contend this amendment constitutes rezoning . . . the City denies that this was a rezoning and denies that it had to meet the burden of proof required to rezone property.”
He cited Drews v. City of Hattiesburg, which states that “where the point at issue is fairly debatable, we will not disturb the zoning authority’s action.”
Emfinger also cited from Town of Florence v. Sea Lands Ltd., which held that “‘fairly debatable’ is the antithesis of arbitrary and capricious.”
Plaintiffs contend that the Costco would create a traffic problem along Highland Colony Parkway, which is lined by office parks and upscale retailers.
The plaintiffs live in upscale neighborhoods in the vicinity.
The amendment, first executed in 2015 in what critics called a surreptitious manner, was redone in April 2016, out of “an abundance of caution,” said city special counsel James Peden.
But Alston argued that the amendment would allow “gas stations, fast-food restaurants” and other things not in keeping with the 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 Wholesale store is to be built on a 45-acre site east of the parkway, along with other retailers. The site has gotten approval from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality on the plan to handle water runoff; trees have been removed from the site.