Residents suing mayor over condos

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

Natchez &8212; A group of Natchez residents filed suit against the mayor and board of aldermen Monday, appealing two zoning changes made late last month.

On Oct. 25, the board of aldermen voted to expand the B3 business district to Broadway Street and also voted to change the height restriction in the waterfront district to 75 feet.

Paris Winn, one of nine residents named as plaintiffs, said the group believes the city &8220;rushed into&8221; decisions about the waterfront district.

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&8220;All of us feel that any change in the waterfront district should be well thought out,&8221; Winn said. &8220;This wasn&8217;t done with any open planning or with any thought.&8221;

The group filed its appeal in Adams County Circuit Court.

Natchez Mayor Phillip West had not seen the suit yet and could not comment on it.

City attorney Walter Brown said the city would respond to the appeal soon and would defend its decisions.

The plaintiffs allege that the city&8217;s decision violates state law because &8220;It was not shown by clear and convincing evidence that either the original zoning was a mistake or the character of the neighborhood has changed to such an extent as to justify rezoning and that a public need exists for such rezoning.&8221;

But Brown said the city believes there has been a change in the character of the neighborhood, noting that the convention center on Main and Canal streets has significantly changed the area.

Much of the controversy over changes downtown has arisen because of a new condo development proposed for the Natchez bluff.

Opponents have criticized the design of the building, which was originally slated to be six stories tall.

Aldermen have voted twice to change the height limit in the waterfront district. Their first vote, which was unanimous, was later amended to reflect the need for Planning Commission input and a public hearing on the issue.

The Planning Commission recommended the city hold off on the height changes until after a design workshop on the condo design. That workshop &8212; involving officials from the Historic Natchez Foundation, architects they hired, and the developers and their architects, enters its second day today.

Brown said he hopes the height issue involving the condo development in the waterfront district can be &8220;resolved amicably&8221; as a result of the design meeting.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include: Robert E. Buie, Hunter M. Bumgardner, John D. Farmer, Jane G. Gardner, Caroline B. Harrington, Rena Jean Schmieg, Nancy J. Shool, J. Neil Varnell and Paris B. Winn.

Winn said others plan to join the plaintiffs in the suit.