Forks of the Road development heads to aldermen

Published 12:09 am Tuesday, October 22, 2013

NATCHEZ — The Natchez Board of Aldermen is expected to vote today on whether to rezone property near the Forks of the Road to allow the construction of nine houses.

The housing is part of Chartre Consulting’s ongoing scattered-site housing project in the downtown area, focused mainly in the area of Martin Luther King Jr. and St. Catherine streets. Chartre has partnered with the city for the project.

The Natchez Planning Commission approved last week a request from Chartre Consulting to rezone property near the Forks of the Road from R-4 to R-3 to allow the housing.

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The Chartre houses would be on D’Evereux Drive between Concord Avenue and O’Ferrall Street. Chartre’s Old Bridge Place development, formerly named Stonehurst Arms, neighbors the property.

Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields, in whose ward the houses would be, said he would rather the nine houses be located on Martin Luther King Jr. or St. Catherine streets, away from the Forks of the Road.

Initially, Fields said, the city and Chartre tried to identify enough lots in the Martin Luther King Jr. and St. Catherine area so the land at the Forks would not have to be used.

That has not happened, Fields said.

Community Development Director James Johnston has said the company is “under duress” from the Mississippi Home Corporation to begin construction on homes for which the company received tax credits. He said the company is being penalized on a daily basis, thus the reason for going forward with housing at the Forks.

Chartre’s ownership of the land complicates the matter, Fields said, meaning the company can develop it regardless of whether city officials want the development.

“If we could protect that land, that’s what I would want,” he said.

“If something must be built, I’m hoping we can work out something with the developer to have a (Forks) interpretative center over there. But, again, it’s their land.”

Friends of the Forks of the Road Coordinator Ser Seshsh ab Heter-C.M. Boxley spoke out against the development at last week’s the meeting, as he has at several meetings regarding Chartre’s developments at the Forks of the Road.

Boxley is scheduled to speak to the board of aldermen today on behalf of the Forks of the Road, which was once the site of the second-largest slave market in the country.

Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins has said the Forks of the Road site is the only place in Natchez that has received international recognition by the United Nations because of its role in the international slave trade.

The National Park Service has completed a multi-year study to determine that the Forks of the Road site should ultimately be a part of the Natchez National Historical Park, Jenkins said, but the NPS is waiting for Congress to create the legislation that will declare the Forks a part of the park.

Chartre may donate a bayou area on part of the property, which is believed to be where slaves were held before they were sold, to NPS, City Planner Frankie Legaux said.

Initial plans for the property included 11 houses, but that has since been downsized.

The property will be accessed by a road off D’Evereux that will have a cul-de-sac, where seven of the nine houses will be built, Legaux said. The remaining two lots will be on the western most side of the property, Legaux said, nearest to D’Evereux. The Mississippi Department of Transportation has tentatively approved a joint driveway for those two houses, Legaux said.

If the board of aldermen approves the rezoning, the development’s site plan will then go to the planning commission for approval.