Owners seek to rezone properties downtown

Published 12:27 am Sunday, March 13, 2016

NATCHEZ — Several downtown property owners are seeking permission to rezone their properties to find new uses for historic structures.

Two property owners on Canal Street have applied to rezone their parcels from multifamily residential to general business.

Mike Blattner, owner of Cherokee antebellum house, bought the former Herrold Miller Coffee warehouse next door and has renovated the exterior of the building.

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“We purchased it mainly to try and protect our house from development that would be inappropriate,” Blattner said. “We’re well on our way to making it look respectable for the neighborhood. We don’t want something behind our house that’s an eyesore, and that’s exactly what it turned into.”

Blattner said the warehouse, which was built in the 1930s to manufacture and store foods, had fallen into disrepair before he bought and renovated the building.

Now, he’d like to open the warehouse up to commercial renters again, but he cannot because of its zoning category.

Blattner said he thinks the current residential zoning of his warehouse must have been a mistake.

“The warehouse, the old beer distributor building across the street and (the office of The Natchez Democrat) were mis-zoned,” Blattner said. “It was originally zoned for business, then changed to residential. Obviously, the properties are not residential.”

Broadway Investments, LLC, the owners of the former Southwest Distributors building across Canal Street from the warehouse will also seek permission from the City of Natchez to rezone.

Blattner said his research showed the entirety of Canal Street was once zoned for commercial purposes, but now he is applying specifically to change his warehouse to B-2 HD, which is a general business site specific to the historic district.

His priority, Blattner said, is to use the warehouse for the benefit of the city and the neighborhood.

“We’d be very selective because obviously we live on the property right next to it,” Blattner said. “We don’t want any type of business activity I wouldn’t consider to be a good neighbor.”

Neighboring property owner Temple Hendricks, who lives on High Street, said she is concerned about the rezoning not because of what Blattner would do on the property, but because of what the property may be used for in the future.

“Their fears are misguided,” Blattner said. “The zone is very specific.”

Interim City Planner Riccardo Giani agreed. He said the historic district business zoning is substantially different from other non-historic commercial areas in the city.

“Nothing would be permitted here that is not already permitted in the downtown district,” Giani said.

Giani said Blattner’s belief the current zoning was mistakenly applied may not be accurate.

“It’s just a possible mistake, it’s not definitive if it’s a mistake or not,” Giani said. “We don’t know everything from the past.”

Giani said he recommended the application for rezoning be approved by the Natchez Planning Commission in their meeting at 5:15 p.m. Thursday.

In another downtown neighborhood, a development group is hoping to make an opposite rezoning move: from business to residential.

Representatives of the Brumfield Apartments developers did not make it to Tuesday’s Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting, at which a public hearing was held in regards to the rezoning of the Brumfield property.

The board tabled any action on the application to rezone the Franklin Street and St. Catherine street parcels from general business to multi-family and mixed density residential, which would allow Bennett Group Consulting, in partnership with local church New Hope Vision Center, to reopen the historic Brumfield building as affordable living apartments.

Local residents and business owners came to the meeting to ask questions and voice concerns about security, drainage and noise issues that may arise from the development.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he was familiar with other projects in the city the Bennett Group Consulting organized, and he felt the group could be trusted to manage the apartments well.

The aldermen voted to table any action on the application until the hearing could be reopened at 4 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers, when the applicants are again invited to make a presentation.