Planning is crucial to the city of Natchez

Published 12:01 am Friday, November 2, 2007

If you have been a casual observer of the Miss-Lou for the past seven or so years, you will have to admit that the town of Vidalia knows how to create a plan and follow through.

Stand on the Mississippi River bluff in Natchez, gaze across the river and you will see what I mean. There you will witness the fruits of hard work and planning.

The view of Vidalia from Natchez closely resembles the model sitting in Vidalia City Hall. The model was a vision of what town officials hoped for the Vidalia Riverfront seven years ago.

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That vision included a walking trail, an amphitheater, a hotel, a visitor center and an office building.

Models and drawings described for the citizens of Vidalia that vision. It wasn’t just some dream or promise. It was a vision put on paper.

It was a goal and a vision that has become reality.

Now if you turn 180 degrees on the bluff and look across the city of Natchez, you will get an opposite view of city planning.

With a four-story hotel being built downtown, you might think that the city leaders have their act together.

Yet, if you asked city leaders what their plan is for Natchez, you probably would get little more than a few abstract words about attracting more business to the area.

If you asked for a diagram, a drawing or even a model, you likely would receive blank stares and few words.

In recent years Natchez has placed little faith in having a plan for the city. Instead Natchez leaders have cobbled together whatever business they can attract, however they can get it without really thinking about how it all works together as a coherent plan.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Natchez city planner’s office.

Natchez alderman James Ricky Gray pointed this out in the city’s most recent board ofaldermen meeting.

Discussing a recent decision by the city planning commission, Gray asked this question — How can the Natchez city planner make decisions about a community in which he doesn’t live?

I think it is a good question.

If Gray’s inquiry leaves you scratching your head, here is some background information.

After former city planner Andrew Smith was dismissed in 2006, Dennis Story was hired to take his place.

In January 2007, the city agreed to hire Story on a contractual basis. The city agreed he could commute to and from Alexandria, La., because Story did not want to remove his children from school in the middle of the school year. The mayor said at the time that Story’s situation would be reviewed before the next school year.

Since then another school year has begun and Story still lives in Alexandria.

He still works for the city receiving a $48,000 salary for a full-time job.

So, how is it that a person who only knows about Natchez from what he gets behind his desk responsible for the planning and design of the city?

Shouldn’t a city planner live in the community for which he plans?

How else is he going to know how the city functions — what parts of the city work well and which ones do not?

Without walking the streets, living in the city’s livable neighborhoods and idling in the city’s occasional traffic jam, how can a city planner give advice as to where and how the city should grow and develop?

After years of having a solid reputation among planning professionals, today’s office is reduced to a city planning office in name only.

Maybe this is the way the mayor and aldermen want it to be.

Maybe they don’t value things like planning and forethought.

Maybe they should stand on the bluff and take a look at Vidalia.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor at the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or