Developers will preserve Forks

Published 12:12 am Friday, May 4, 2012

NATCHEZ — An affordable housing development on historic private property next to the Forks of the Road could threaten preservation of the historic site, but the developing company says it will do its best to preserve any artifacts that could be lying beneath the historic ground.

The Natchez Planning Commission voted 5-2 in January to approve a site plan for the 26-unit townhouse development on the corner of St. Catherine and Rembert streets.

Commissioners Karen Stubbs and Charles Harris voted against the proposed development. Chairperson Deborah Martin and Cheryl Rinehart were not at the meeting.

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The development is being funded through the Section 42 tax credit program and constructed, managed and owned by the parent company Charter Companies based in Oxford.

Although a public hearing was conducted at a planning commission meeting, Ward 4 Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields said at the March 20 aldermen meeting that he felt the public was not adequately informed of the development.

“The people who needed to be here, who needed to be informed, were not informed, or they would be here — I do not like the way this was snuck through here,” he said at the meeting.

Fields said he has since been trying to work with developers to facilitate cooperation to preserve any artifacts found at the development site.

Friends of the Forks of the Road Coordinator Ser Seshsh Ab Heter-Clifford M. Boxley said he first learned of the development two years ago. Boxley said he is not interested in stopping the development from being built, only ensuring any artifacts found at the site during construction are preserved.

David Kelly of Chartre Consulting said his company is going to try to preserve any artifacts found as much as possible.

“We’re going to be sensitive and be looking for any artifacts and do our best to preserve anything we find, but we will have some heavy equipment there,” he said. “This will be a construction site, not an archaeological dig, but we will try to be sensitive.”

Kelly said he also believes Boxley and any other historical or archaeological experts should be able to explore the site during construction when it is safe.

Kelly said he also believes the company has within the project’s budget the ability to build a shotgun house museum on the Forks of the Road site.

Boxley said if Stonehurst developers build the shotgun house museum, the ability to preserve the Forks of the Road will increase, while the historic land mass decreases. Boxley said he has been interested in erecting a shotgun house museum at the site for quite some time.

Although a Forks of the Road museum could be built, Boxley said the larger questions are who is responsible for the marginalization of history of the Forks of the Road and who will stop it.

Boxley said the entire community has a responsibility to ensure the Forks of the Road history is preserved, and he said he believes a long-term plan to ensure preservation of the site needs to be in place.

“It speaks not just to the African-American history in this area, but to the history of all the people here, the antebellum estates and the Old South,” he said.

“The issue is the gobbling up of the remaining few acres of open land that exists at the Forks that could be utilized for interpretation at the Forks of the Road,” Boxley said.