RV parks get first nod of approval

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 24, 2008

NATCHEZ — Natchez Planning Commission members approved an amendment to allow RV resorts within the Natchez City limits Thursday night.

Nearly 60 residents crowded the Natchez City Council Chambers to voice their support and opposition to the proposed changes.

With a 4-1 vote, the commission approved adding RV resorts to the list of special exemptions in the city’s B-2 business districts.

Email newsletter signup

The issue now goes to a public hearing before the mayor and board of aldermen, who will then vote to approve the change to the city ordinance.

Former Natchez mayor Larry L. “Butch” Brown and representatives of Ramco Developments, of D’Iberville, previously came before the commission to unveil plans to develop a “high-end” RV resort between the Isle of Capri Hotel and Hampton Inn on Canal Street. In order for the project to proceed, the zoning ordinance had to be changed to allow RV resorts in the city limits.

While Thursday night’s vote did not address Brown’s specific project, it did open the door for his project to proceed.

Butch Brown’s son, Larry Brown, represented the developers of the proposed resort. Addressing concerns of some residents, Larry Brown assured the commission that the project would be a “high-end” resort, unlike a standard RV park.

“There is a big difference between an RV resort and RV park like the one across the river,” Larry Brown said.

“It’s a totally different world. The people who come to these resorts average in their 50s and are in the mid- to upper-income levels,” he said. “These are the kind of people we want in downtown Natchez.”

Larry Brown also pointed out that many casino towns, including Las Vegas and the Gulf Coast, have these high-end resorts.

“We don’t want to be like Las Vegas, but these resorts are very exclusive,” he said. “These people are not coming unless they are coming to an RV resort,” he said.

Several residents voiced their opposition to the zoning changes, expressing a wide range of concerns.

Wayne Murphy, a Katrina evacuee who has settled in Natchez, expressed his concerns that RV resorts would destroy the quiet, secure and beautiful Natchez neighborhoods.

“It is a difficult price to pay for a few casinos. This isn’t Las Vegas; this isn’t Biloxi.”

Natchez resident Lawrie Cloutier said that such a development would adversely affect surrounding neighborhoods. Cloutier’s property would be near the proposed RV resort.

“An RV resort of the caliber we are talking about would lower the value of property,” he said.

Connie Burns, another resident near the proposed property, expressed concerns that the city would not properly enforce landscaping and buffer-zone requirements.

“We are questioning whether these policies will be enforced. Because we know in the past, policies have not been followed,” she said.

Larry Brown responded to citizens’ concerns, saying that the project developers would like to address landscaping and security concerns when the specific project comes up for approval.

“I can assure you that everything you have said has been addressed (with developers),” Larry Brown said.

“(Our project) will be less intrusive and less invasive than an amusement park might be,” he said. “Compared to a Ferris wheel, it is a no-brainer,”

After the hearing, it appeared as if no vote would be taken on the issue when no one would offer a motion to approve or disapprove of the changes to the city zoning ordinance.

Despite recommendations from City Planner Rusty Lewis to add RV resorts as a special exemption to the city B-2 business district, commission members refused to vote on the issue.

“There is no motion. The applicant may appeal to the mayor and board of aldermen,” Chairman Deborah Martin said.

In response, members of the public accused the commission of neglecting its duty and passing the decision to city leaders.

“This seems like the worst buck passing I have ever seen. You are just punting,” Natchez resident Paul Benoist said.

Commission member Rose Jackson then offered a motion to table the issue. But that motion died for the lack of a second.

Commission member Ed Godfrey then offered a motion to approve the zoning changes. Earlier, Godfrey, who is the brother-in-law of Butch Brown, said he would recuse himself when approval of the project came before the commission. He said that he did not feel compelled to recuse himself on Thursday’s vote because it applied only to the amendment, not the specific project.

Jackson then seconded the motion. Commission member Cheryl Morace offered the only dissenting vote.