‘Go-cup’ ordinance sent for OK

Published 12:33 am Wednesday, July 12, 2017


NATCHEZ — Natchez aldermen agreed Tuesday to submit the “to-go cup ordinance” to the state tax commission for approval — but not without dissent.

The motion carried by a 4-2 majority, with Ward 1 alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis and Ward 2 alderman Billie Joe Frazier opposing.

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Reading a prepared statement at Tuesday’s aldermen meeting, Arceneaux-Mathis said she believes the proposed boundaries of the to-go-cup zone — formally known as a leisure and recreation district (LRD) — are discriminatory.

“This proposal deters future development of bars and entertainment districts in Natchez because of preferential treatment given to bars and clubs in the prescribed mapped area of the city,” Arceneaux-Mathis said.

“Since the city’s current ordinances do not allow the establishment of new bars within the prescribed mapped area, as written this ordinance creates a monopoly of bars and clubs within the prescribed mapped leisure and recreation district.

“The leisure and recreation district plan as outlined discriminates against other businesses of the same nature by deleting them from the district; it is prohibitive, and exclusive in nature.”

Arceneaux-Mathis also expressed concerns about enforcement of the ordinance.

“Finally, how will this new ordinance be enforced? Will this enforcement take critical time away from city police who are already ‘overloaded with the responsibility of keeping the city safe?’” Arceneaux-Mathis said.

Arceneaux-Mathis said she worried further that the ordinance’s proposed boundaries would confuse tourists, especially visitors who do not speak English.

The proposal to submit the ordinance came from city attorney Bob Latham, who recommended the board authorize city planner Rico Giani to submit the ordinance to the Mississippi Department of Revenue for approval prior to adopting the ordinance.

Latham said once the ordinance is adopted, it would not go into effect for another 30 days after being published. He noted that submitting the ordinance to the department of revenue now could give the city time to make adjustments to the ordinance, should the department require any revisions.

Grennell inquired how long the state typically takes to review to-go-cup ordinances, but Giani said that remains “unclear.” Though Giani gave a loose estimate of 2-3 weeks, Giani said he has prepared for up to a month of review.

Ward 6 alderman Dan Dillard, the first to respond to Arceneaux-Mathis’ statement, said he appreciated the comments, but he disagreed with some of her assertions.

Contrary to Arceneaux-Mathis, Dillard said he believes the ordinance could benefit certain areas on East Franklin Street, which he referred to as — historically — the “Black business district.”

“I see no discrimination in this proposal,” Dillard said. “That’s the part I take issue with.”

In previous meetings, Dillard had expressed the desire in prior meetings to “start small” with the ordinance and consider expansion down the road if the district is successful.

Other officials, including Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell, share that desire.

Ward 4 alderwoman Felicia Irving proposed that the board revisit discussion of the ordinance in 30 to 60 days, saying the board needs more time to consider potential adjustments.

Grennell, however, wanted to move forward with the project.

“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Grennell said. “You can always, as a prerogative of this body, expand the lines and get approval on the expansion of the program once we see how it operates.”

Ward 3 alderwoman Sarah Smith agreed with the mayor’s statement, adding that the ordinance focuses on tourists more than Natchez residents.

After the vote, Arceneaux-Mathis asked Giani if the vote tally would be included in the submission to the department of revenue, and Giani said “yes.” Grennell suggested including an excerpt showing the language of the motion and a record of the votes as part of the submission.

Arceneaux-Mathis is not the first to express discriminatory concerns about the ordinance.

Last month, Club Paradise owner W.C. Curtis requested a separate leisure and recreation district be drawn to include his establishment and others located on East Franklin Street. Curtis said he wanted his building to be “included in the success of Natchez, not excluded.”

Residents in the surrounding area, however, voiced vehement opposition to a LRD in that area, expressing concerns regarding safety and disturbance of peace. Their concerns led Curtis to withdraw his request.

In addition to authorizing Giani to submit the ordinance, the board also considered proposed signage to mark the boundaries of the LRD.

The concept for the sign read “Now leaving the Downtown Arts and Entertainment District” in fanciful cursive lettering, followed by “Please, no alcohol beyond this point” in an all-capitalized standard print.

The design also contained an image of a figure throwing trash in a receptacle below the words “Think green.”

Grennell suggested the sign be simplified, saying the cursive font was too difficult to read.

Giani said the city would acquire approximate 20 signs to mark the LRD.