Casino not on planning, gaming commission agendas

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 19, 2010

NATCHEZ — Roth Hill casino developers asked the planning commission to remove the final site plan public hearing and approval from the planning meeting agenda this month, City Planner Bob Nix said at Thursday’s meeting.

In addition, developers were not on the Mississippi Gaming Commission’s November agenda for its monthly meeting that also took place Thursday, according to the agenda posted on the gaming commission’s website.

Kevin Preston, the president of the operating company Premier Gaming that has authority to act on behalf of the developing company — Natchez Enterprises — said in an e-mail he had no comment to questions from The Democrat about why the Natchez casino project was not on the gaming commission’s agenda.

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Mayor Jake Middleton said on Nov. 9 Premier Gaming was on the gaming commission’s agenda for its November meeting, which took place Thursday.

Nix said he received an e-mail from the architectural firm overseeing the project stating the final plan was not complete.

“We are still developing lighting and landscaping,” Bob Lehmann of Ed Vance and Associates said.

Nix said at his recommendation, Natchez Enterprises recently hired a landscape architect for the park they plan to build on the site, so those plans were not ready for approval.

The planning commission did, however, vote to allow the casino developer’s request to build 66 less parking spaces in a proposed garage than the number of spaces Nix estimated would be required.

Commission member Deborah Martin asked if it was acceptable to discuss and vote on the parking space issue without any representatives from the casino present at the meeting.

“I don’t mind hearing (the request), but I think they should be here to speak if we have questions,” Martin said.

Nix said the commission could table the request until its next meeting if commission members needed more information from the developers.

Nix said based on maximum occupancy estimates, the casino on Roth Hill should have an estimated 448 parking spots. Developers requested approval to build 382, 29 of which would be allotted for city use.

Nix recommended the planning commission approve the developer’s request for a parking spot variance mostly because of challenges with the site’s location.

“There is enough limitation on site that that they need variance,” Nix said.

Nix said the developers will be contributing money to the city, extending the Natchez Trails Project through the site, possibly building a YMCA and possibly building a multicultural facility.

“They (will be) making substantial contributions to the city,” Nix said.

Nix said removing 66 spots should not pose a problem with an 80-percent occupancy, but it would cause problems if the casino hosted a headlining act or a large, crowed-drawing event. If a large event was scheduled, however, Nix said parking would be an issue even if 448 spots were built.

Newly appointed planning commission member Butch Johnson was not actively on the commission at Thursday’s meeting, but he attended as a member of the public and offered comments on the parking space issue.

Johnson said issues such as parking are often addressed by businesses themselves for their own gain in the business world, suggesting the commission should grant the developers a variance.

He asked if any laws or restrictions placed by the planning commission could prevent the developers from building a third story on the parking garage in the future, to which Nix confirmed there were none.

Nix said the developer’s designs for a two-story parking garage allow for a third level to be built in the future.

Also at Thursday’s planning commission meeting:

4 Commission member Karen Stubbs discussed the possibility of creating an ordinance allowing bed and breakfast-style businesses without a live-in resident.

Nix said he would research an ordinance that exists allowing what he called “tourist residences” to operate without the potential to cause disruptive changes in neighborhoods.

4 The commission approved moving property lines at Crosspoint Church, 285 Highland Blvd., 25 feet west of where the line currently exists.

The change will not go into effect until the board of aldermen grants its approval.