Competition cranks up for sales tax-generating developments

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Published: December 20,2004

It used to be that only large industries looked for incentives when making large economic investments. But currently there is a trend for major retailers to shop around to see which city will give them the best deal before making a decision where to open a retail outlet.

Larry Jones, director of community development for Ridgeland, said the trend towards more competition between cities for big sales tax-generating businesses has developed over the past couple of years.

“A good example would be Bass Pro Shop, which decided to build a facility in Pearl,” Jones said. “While considering the Jackson metro area, Bass Pro Shops looked at several different municipalities attempting to see what economic packages would be given to them to build in that municipality. I think we are seeing more and more competition between cities for large sales tax-generating businesses, and seeing developers shopping from municipality to municipality trying to get most incentives they can.”

Cities can use tax increment financing (TIF) and other forms of infrastructure assistance for site preparation, and water, sewer, gas and electric infrastructure.

Jones, who has worked in planning and development for 33 years, said these large tax-generating businesses are particularly important for municipalities like Ridgeland, which derive a major part of its income from sales taxes. He said Ridgeland has a very low mileage rate, only half the mileage rate of the City of Madison, for example.

As cities grow, there can be clashes between the needs of new commercial development and existing residential neighborhoods. Jones said it is always a challenge to work with developers and try to balance the needs of developers with those of other property owners.

While most larger cities in the state have zoning as a way to grow in an orderly fashion and protect existing property values, only about eight of the state’s 82 counties have zoning. Rankin County recently adopted a zoning ordinance, and one of the state’s other most populous counties, Harrison County on the Coast, has only had zoning for a few years. DeSoto County has had a zoning ordinance since 1958. They were the first county in Mississippi to adopt zoning criteria.

Larry Smith, planning director of the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District (CMPDD), believes the interest in county zoning is increasing in Mississippi.

“I think more counties realize that zoning is not the negative thing envisioned in the past,” Smith said. “Ordinances can be tailored to fit various parts of the county. For example, parts of Rankin County that are more developed have different zoning than more rural areas. If counties adopt zoning, it has to be county wide. But it doesn’t need the same restrictions countrywide. In Rankin County, there are tighter controls in the reservoir area. But down in the southeast corner of the county near Puckett, it is mainly agricultural zoning.”

In more rural parts of the state, there is not as much interest in community planning and zoning. But in areas where more development is taking place, there is greater acceptance of zoning as a way to preserve property values.

“The purpose of zoning isn’t just to tell people what they can or can’t do with their land, but to preserve their property values,” Smith said. “I believe people in Mississippi are beginning to realize that is a benefit of zoning. There are so many other things you can do with zoning other than regulating land use. For example, there can be requirements making it illegal for people to allow rubbish or junk cars to accumulate in their yard.”

As a spinoff of zoning, in some communities there is increasing interest in architectural controls and landscaping standards. Sign controls are another big issue with upscale communities like Madison to restrict signs from being too large or garish. Smith said those kind of controls are designed to make communities more aesthetically pleasing, which increases property values.

“Most of the zoning ordinances we write also have sign controls in them,” said Smith said. “We see a great deal of interest in that.”

The CMPDD helped prepare a zoning ordinance that was adopted recently for Terry in Hinds County. CMPDD also did a zoning ordinance for Raymond a couple of years ago, and earlier for the cities of Madison, Canton, Ridgeland and Flowood.

Smith said Flora has adopted architectural standards for the entire commercial area of the town, not just the downtown.

“Again, it preserves the values of neighboring property,” Smith said. “Zoning goes beyond just saying you can’t put a junkyard next to a $1-million house. Land use controls are what most people think about. But if the city and county wants to, it can go beyond standard land use controls. Even lighting has become an interest.”

Establishing zoning requires first that a comprehensive plan be created that establishes goals, objectives, a land use plan, transportation plans and public facilities plan.

“Before a city can adopt a zoning ordinance, it must have this comprehensive plan to be in conformance with state law,” Smith said. “One way the CMPDD has helped is providing comprehensive plans for most of the cities and counties in our areas.”

One current major focus in planning and development is working with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency on the issue of hazard mitigation plans to prevent inappropriate development in flood-prone areas.

“Most cities have problems with flooding,” Smith said. “Working with MEMA on the hazard mitigation plans, one of the focuses is stormwater management. In most of the communities we are working with, we are assisting in managing stormwater. Unfortunately in Mississippi, stormwater is something that hasn’t been managed properly over the years. But now we are seeing more use of retention and detention ponds to control runoff. Madison, for example, requires that residential subdivisions develop floodwater management plans to keep stormwater from flooding properties downstream.

“In the past a lot of cities allowed stormwater to go its own path,” Smith said. “Now, in most cities stormwater has to be controlled. There are federal regulations now that require stormwater controls for any projects over five acres.”

Ocean Springs-based freelance journalist Becky Gillette writers regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her via e-mail at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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