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Natchez aldermen address planning issues

NATCHEZ — Tuesday’s meeting of the Natchez Board of Aldermen felt more like a Natchez Planning Commission meeting as the aldermen hosted three separate public hearings for rezoning requests and sign ordinance concerns.

The alderman voted unanimously to deny Steve Knight’s request to re-establish a commercial business in a residential zone at 7 1/2 E. Woodlawn St.

Knight planned to reopen a neighborhood grocery store at the location, but Alderman James “Ricky” Gray immediately voiced his opposition.

“The last time somebody tried to open up a business somewhere in that neighborhood, (the council chamber) was full,” Gray said.

The aldermen then voted unanimously to table Oscar Brown’s request to rezone property at 801 N. Martin Luther King Jr. St., as a neighborhood business.

“(The location) was a grocery store in the past,” Natchez Building Inspector and interim Natchez City Planner Paul Dawes said. “(Brown) wishes to open a restaurant at the location.”

Dawes said the location is for sale, but Brown wants his request granted before he makes his purchase.

Planning Commission Chair Deborah Martin said from the audience the commission will review the location at its June meeting. The board has scheduled a second public hearing for Brown July 13.

Finally, the board voted unanimously to grant a digital sign to advertise lodging rates at the Travel Inn on D’Evereux Drive.

Travel Inn owner Manish Patel said the sign would attract more business to the hotel, but the planning commission initially denied his request.

“We don’t want to run out of business,” Patel said.

Martin said under the city’s sign ordinance, digital signs are strictly prohibited. However, the aldermen approved a digital sign for the Red Carpet Inn, formerly the Econo Lodge, in 2005.

“We have already done this for one person, so I think it would be unfair not to do it for Mr. Patel,” Gray said.

“Our formal request is that you all enforce the sign ordinance as it is written,” Martin responded. “Digital signs are not addressed in the sign ordinance. They’re not allowed anywhere, but several have popped up in the city and some are just put up. (Mr. Patel) at least came and followed the proper procedure.”

Alderman Dan Dillard said there are discrepancies in the sign ordinance, citing the ordinance does not specify the bans against digital signs. However, the ordinance does prohibit flashing signs.

“Where does it tell you in the sign ordinance you can’t have an electronic-controlled message center?” Dillard asked. “An electric-controlled message center is not a flashing sign. Your ordinance is prohibiting a flashing sign.”

Martin responded, “We’re prohibiting it because it’s not defined in the ordinance.”

“How can you deny it if you don’t have an interpretation of it?” Dillard said.

Once the board approved Patel’s request, Alderwoman Joyce-Arceneaux Mathis said the aldermen must work with the planning commission and the new city planner to revise the sign ordinance.

“(The planning commission) is working under strain, and we are going to have to work with the new planner to move forward since the world is moving forward and leaving us behind.”

During aldermen reports, Dillard said the city has narrowed down two candidates for city planner.

“I want to assure the public their safety and well-being is noted,” Dillard said. I’m concerned about those who seek to profit from the safety of our community.

“We will have a city planner. We have an electrical inspector, a plumbing inspector, a fire marshal, a preservation commission and a planning commission. The idea that the public is in peril or danger is an irresponsible and inflammatory position.”

Dillard added four seats are set to expire on the planning commission, and suggested interested persons forward their application to Mayor Jake Middleton’s office.

In other business:

4The aldermen awarded a $2,550,024.69 bid to Dirt Works, Inc., of Vicksburg for Phase 2A of the North Natchez Drainage Project.

4The aldermen voted unanimously to demolish and clean up the fallen building at the 201 Martin Luther King Jr. St. The building, at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin streets, collapsed last month.