Commission approves re-zoning recommendation

Published 12:08 am Friday, July 17, 2015

Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the entity that approved the re-zoning of a seven-acre lot at the end of Ashburn Street. The Natchez Board of Aldermen approved the re-zoning approximately a year ago. The information below is correct.

NATCHEZ — Despite some public disapproval, the Natchez Planning Commission unanimously passed a motion Thursday to recommend the re-zoning of approximately seven acres on the north side of Winchester Road.

The re-zoning would change the lot from villa residential to mixed-density residential.

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The decision was met with public scrutiny, as the area used to boast nothing but trees and undisturbed wildlife.

“I just want to state how devastating this construction has been for us,” said Catherine Ratcliffe, who lives on the historic Routhland property adjacent to the development. “I feel like there was a right way and a wrong way to do go about this. I’m not sure this was the right way.”

The re-zoning comes almost a year after the commission denied a recommendation to re-zone a seven-acre lot located near the end of Ashburn Street, which is right next to the seven- acre lot that was approved for recommended rezoning Thursday. The Natchez Board of Aldermen appealed and overturned that denial, allowing for the re-zoning.

Jody Foster, a local housing developer, owns all 14 acres — and intends to eventually build some 66 housing units on the property.

In order to begin building, Foster has to first re-zone the property for mixed density housing.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — construction is ugly,” said Foster, who has bulldozed the majority of the trees that were once located on the 14 acres. “But if people would be patient, they would see that something really nice will eventually be developed there.”

Foster said he intends for the lot to be a gated community with upscale housing.

In order to maintain housing safety, Foster said he had no other choice but to cut down most of the trees on the property.

“Aesthetically, I love trees,” Foster said. “But you have to be real conscientious about what you disturb around the trees. If you disturb any root systems, (the trees that are left) will die, especially the old ones.”

Foster said remaining trees would have posed a liability to the houses built on the property, because they could potentially fall from a disrupted root system.

In order to preserve the integrity of the Routhland property, which previously boasted a remote, scenic aesthetic, Foster agreed to a 20-foot green space buffer between the development and Routhland.

However, that buffer could take a few years to mature, leaving Routhland, along with areas of Ashburn Street and Winchester Road, completely exposed to the construction.

“We won’t ever see the integrity of our property restored in our lifetime,” Ratcliffe said. “We look at this construction every day. It’s not (the commission’s) problem, it’s not Jody’s problem — it’s our problem.”

Aside from Ratcliffe, who lives at Routhland with her husband, four other housing units are located on the property.

Rico Giani, interim city planner, said right now the 14 acres and its future is essentially in the hands of the Natchez Board of Aldermen, who can either approve or reject the re-zoning of the second seven-acre lot.

Once Foster submits his official development plan for the full 14 acres, Giani said it will be reviewed through the city’s site plan review, which consists of members from the Natchez Public Works Department, Natchez Water Works, Entergy, city traffic control, among others.

“Without a formal site plan, this is just a re-zoning,” Giani said. “The drawing has not been formally approved.”

Foster said he expects a formal site plan could be ready for review as early as Friday, July 24, which comes before the board of aldermen’s next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11.

“We’re hoping to get construction on this development in the ground before winter,” said Foster, adding that the potential name for the development is Ashburn Woods. “This is just the process of development.”