MDAH rejects pecan factory condos

Published 11:20 pm Thursday, September 6, 2007

JACKSON — One chapter of the months-long pecan factory saga came to an end, or at least a detour, Thursday when the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Board of Trustees denied developer Worley-Brown, LLC, a permit to build condominiums on the site.

In April, the MDAH permit committee recommended approval if Worley-Brown met several conditions, including an architectural study and a geotechnical survey attesting to the safety and stability of the site.

The developers submitted the geotechnical study in August. The debate Thursday centered around that study.

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Mayor Phillip West and City Attorney Everett Sanders were in attendance at the Thursday meeting in Jackson.

At the specially called meeting, Attorney Tim Waycaster, representing Worley-Brown, told the board the geotechnical study found no problems with the plans.

“We’ve done all we or anyone can do to ensure the safety of the site,” Waycaster said.

James Bobo, representing a group of Natchez residents opposed to the condos’ construction, said the permit was a question of the bluffs’ stability.

The condominium complex would be multi-story and incorporate a swimming pool.

“The statute clearly charges you (the board members) with protecting and preserving the site,” Bobo said.

The site was designated a Mississippi landmark, and although the building was torn down in February, the designation still applies to the land, board Chairman William Winter said. Therefore, MDAH has jurisdiction.

David Dockery of the Mississippi Office of Geology, who was called to speak at the meeting and is not connected with the project, said he found some points about the situation alarming.

The fact that the plans called for the condos to be so close to the edge of the bluff — 55 feet from the edge — had the potential to destabilize the bluff, he said.

The condos would be acceptable if they were built exactly to the proposed plans, he said.

“Nobody can guarantee that,” he said.

In a worst-case scenario, that could lead to “a catastrophic failure,” Dockery said. He cited bluff failures in years past along the Mississippi River from Vicksburg to Natchez.

Eddie Templeton, a geological consultant for Jackson firm Burns Cooley Dennis, Inc., said the bluff stabilization project made those failures irrelevant.

With the stabilization system, on which he worked, the proposed buildings posed little risk of a collapse, he said.

“Nobody else who wants to build along the bluff has gone to these extremes,” he said.

After hearing from all parties involved, Winters called for a motion to accept or reject the permit.

“I’m certainly no engineer, but I’ve tried to review (the material) carefully, and to me, there are several red flags,” board member Lynn Gammill said. “I feel at this point we should not approve it.”

After her motion, the board voted unanimously to deny the permit.

Board members said they would meet again in October to approve an official document detailing the reason for their decision.

Worley-Brown partner Larry Brown said the developers would wait until the October document was approved before considering an appeal.

MDAH attorney Harold Pizzetta said the proper venue for appeal would likely be the Hinds County Circuit Court.

Brown would not comment on the outcome of the case.

Gwen Ball, one of the residents opposed to the condos, said the board’s decision validated their argument.

“The decision (Thursday) strengthened the protection and preservation of state landmarked property,” she said.

The decision did not rule out anyone seeking permits for other developments on the property, Pizzetta said.

A ruling on, among other things, whether or not the city acted inappropriately when it sold the land for less than its appraised value is pending a Mississippi Supreme Court Hearing.