Mayor got what he deserved with condos

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Natchez bluff condo saga continued last week with another layer of drama added.

Few people should have been surprised by last week’s decision by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to deny a building permit for the condos.

The move was the latest chapter in the drama that began more than two years ago.

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Who could blame the MDAH for erring on the side of caution with regard to the condo development?

While the geotechnical concerns raised by a grassroots effort of local residents provide MDAH with a sound reason for slamming the brakes on the project in the short run, perhaps something else is also in play.

Many people involved likely will not discuss “that something else,” at least not publicly.

It may be personal and it may be a little bit of retribution.

Back in February, the City of Natchez, or more precisely, Mayor Phillip West, sent a clear message to the leaders of MDAH: Your authority doesn’t matter in Natchez.

West ordered the former Natchez Pecan Shelling Company building bulldozed without the legally required permit from MDAH.

What’s worse, he did so one day after speaking to the Historic Natchez Conference at which both MDAH Executive Director Hank Holmes and MDAH Historic Preservation Division Director Ken P’Pool were listed as participants.

What a slap in the face that was to the two men and the agency for which they work.

Despite his violating the law, West and the city got off without any significant penalty.

But West’s now infamous bulldozer brigade may be coming back to haunt the city.

So far the only ones potentially injured in the matter are the developers, Worley-Brown LLC, and their hopes of bringing the multi-million dollar facility to downtown.

But if West and the city aren’t careful, their cavalier attitudes toward the MDAH may continue to burn the city and future developments.

What’s going to happen when the next city project needs approval of the MDAH?

Do you think they’ll be forgiving and just forget the hand slapped firmly across their face?

That’s not likely.

West and the city need to realize that throwing their weight around is not only impolite; it can be harmful to future growth, too.

Was anyone else surprised to read that the mayor and city attorney traveled to Jackson — presumably on the taxpayer’s dime — to attend the MDAH meeting over the condo permit?

Unless the supreme court overturns the city’s contract with the developers, the city has no direct interest in the matter any more, at least not that I can see. The city sold the land, illegally demolished the pecan factory building and now should have little more to do with the deal.

For now the city’s arrogance has helped drag out the development plan far longer than was necessary.

So here we sit.

We’ve got a number of people stirred up like a hornet’s nest over the issue.

The developers seem stuck between a rock and a hard place, unable to proceed with their plans and stuck for the moment with a piece of property that cannot be developed.

The likelihood that the developers may just throw up their hands and move on seems to grow with every additional setback.

The developers haven’t said much through the rocky parts of the process other than their continued hope to be able to build the condos.

But the reality is that much has changed since they first proposed the idea back in 2005.

Natchez has changed significantly.

The housing market has changed. And the City of Natchez’s reputation around the state has changed, too.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or