Planning tensions discussed

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 9, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Aldermen and planning commission members met Tuesday in open session to discuss what City Planner Andrew Smith said called tension between him and the commission.

In the commission&8217;s January meeting, Smith accused commission members of a pattern of disrespecting him.

Smith&8217;s comments came after commission members voted against some of his recommendations and expressed concerns about the site plan review process.

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Commission Chairwoman Deborah Martin said the impression she got from a recent meeting with Mayor Phillip West and Smith was that the commission should just &8220;rubber stamp&8221; whatever the mayor and aldermen want.

She and commission members Karen Stubbs and Kirk Bartley said their job is to apply the planning ordinances and guidelines of the city to the cases brought before them.

That, they added, can be done while still using common sense and finding middle ground with the developers that come to them for approval.

Stubbs said the process the Historic Natchez Foundation used to compromise with condo developers Ed Worley and Larry Brown Jr. regarding planned blufftop condos was a good example of how such compromise can be done.

That type of collaboration, she said, &8220;is what planning is all about.&8221;

Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem David Massey said that his wish was that when the condo development was first discussed, commission members &8220;would come to the mayor and aldermen and say, &8216;What do we need to do to make this work?&8217;&8221;

Mayor West said city officials&8217; intent is to make the process &8220;as business friendly as possible.&8221;

Smith said appointed boards should &8220;work in concert with public officials. If not, then the city won&8217;t pursue planning-related accomplishments.&8221;

West added that some of the planning ordinances the commission is working with date back decades. Consultants have since been hired to help revise those ordinances.

Commission member Charles Harris, who said Smith has been a great planner and brings superior knowledge to the department, said he believes the mayor, aldermen and commission members can work together.

&8220;I&8217;m sure any commission members would be glad to compromise within the ordinances,&8221; he said.

&8220;I think we have a better understanding,&8221; West said.

Neither Smith nor Martin would comment following Tuesday&8217;s meeting.