Zoning board tables vote on Head Start

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 3, 2000

Both sides walked away happy from Thursday’s Natchez Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting at which the board voted to table a variance request by AJFC Community Action Agency until the county puts a time frame on the extension of Lewis Drive.

As part of a plan to decentralize the area’s Head Start program, AJFC applied for a variance to construct a center on a 6-acre parcel at the end of the dead-end Lewis Drive.

Lamar Braxton, AJFC CEO, said Lewis Drive was chosen as an &uot;ideal&uot; location, because of its proximity to many low-income preschoolers, which the program already serves.

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Several residents submitted letters in opposition to the variance, and many attended the meeting to make their reasons known.

&uot;We have nothing against Head Start,&uot; Joann Lyles, 107 Lewis Drive, said. &uot;It’s a great program, and we need it.&uot;

But, Lyles joins other residents concerned that their road has only one outlet, causing traffic congestion, inconvenience and safety risks.

Their concerns are not new. For as many as 20 years, some residents said, they have been trying to convince city and county government to build another outlet to the community.

In October 1999, a group of residents presented a petition to the Adams County Board of Supervisors.

Despite promises, the residents say they have not seen any action.

District 1 Supervisor Sammy Cauthen said state funding to construct another outlet is in place, and county engineers are currently searching for the &uot;most feasible exit.&uot;

&uot;It’s a lot closer than it’s ever been,&uot; Cauthen said.

Just more than half of the proposed center’s site lies in the county.

While construction of the outlet is in the county’s hands, City Engineer David Gardner said &uot;it’s a done deal,&uot; according to assistant city planner Gretchen Kuechler.

&uot;I hear the words ‘it’s a done deal,’&uot; Hope Lane resident Vera Dunmore said. &uot;We would like to see it in action.&uot;

Until the county engineering department can present a more definite time line for outlet construction, the board voted to table the variance request until its September meeting.

&uot;On the face of public opposition, we’re going to table it right now,&uot; said Mattie Jo Ratcliffe, board chairman.

&uot;If we can get a commitment from the county as to when the extension would be completed, we feel that would satisfy your understandable concerns.&uot;

Braxton said he sympathizes with the residents and agrees that an additional outlet would better serve the community and the Head Start center.

&uot;This can be a win-win situation,&uot; Braxton said.

But, he said he does not think the center’s traffic would interfere with that already generated by the primary school.

Buses carrying children to the center would use the road just after and just before West students let out, he said.

Braxton said he expects congestion to be limited, and &uot;the location in terms of where the people are overrides that.&uot;

More than 35 homes are located on Lewis Drive, plus approximately 225 tenants at Susie B. West Apartments. Just across from the proposed site of the center sits Susie B. West Primary School, where at least 400 students are currently enrolled.

&uot;If something chaotic happens in here, it’s going to be terrible,&uot; Dunmore said.

According to petition circulated by some of the residents last October, a storm caused a tree to block the road, preventing the residents from entering or leaving their community for two days.

&uot;During which time a resident of the apartment (complex) suffered a heart attack and had to be carried out in the neighbor’s arm(s) to an ambulance down the street,&uot; the petition stated.

On another occasion, the community’s water line broke, causing the road to buckle, and West students had to be unloaded at the road’s entrance and escorted by police to school.

Braxton said the center’s plans call for a September 2002 completion date.

&uot;If everything goes perfectly,&uot; Kuechler said she was told the county could begin outlet construction next year.

&uot;If it’s three years until we get the outlet, it needs to be three years before they can open that center,&uot; Dunmore said.