Trinity land issue tabled

Published 12:22 am Friday, May 18, 2018

NATCHEZ — The future of the Trinity Episcopal Day School property remained undetermined Thursday after an application to rezone the property for business use was tabled.

The city’s zoning commission is considering an application by Trinity Episcopal Church — which owns the land off U.S. 61 South where the school sits — to rezone the property from a residential R-1 zone into a B-4. A B-4 Highway Business District constitutes “areas for intensive, high-impact, commercial and small scale light industrial establishments, some of which generate large volumes of heavy truck traffic,” according to Natchez code.

After discussion between the commission, the church vestry and residents concerned about the abutting Woodhaven neighborhood, the commission decided not to make any immediate decisions and reconsider the application at its next meeting in a month.

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As the school’s closing at the end of this school year looms large, the church seeks to rezone the property so it can make the property appealing to sell to a potential developer.

The church’s attorney, Robin Punches, said the lot would likely remain stagnant after the school’s closure if the city does not re-designate the property.

“There are numerous houses for sale in Natchez and Adams County, and I don’t know that adding more vacant lots for residential use would be productive to our city at this time,” Punches said.

Punches recognized the concerns of residents in the Woodhaven subdivision, where formerly he lived. But leaving the area as an R-1 zone, he said, could actually be harmful to the neighborhood.

“If our property is left vacant, which will probably happen if the zoning is not changed from R-1, this could have a very negative impact on Woodhaven subdivision,” Punches said.

Speaking on behalf of some Woodhaven residents, Tyler Cooley said he was “depressed” that the school would be closing, but looking ahead, he asked one thing of the zoning commission.

“Our main concern is we don’t want a B-4 classification bordering our neighborhood,” Cooley said.

With the school property practically in his backyard, Cooley said, a B-4 zone could cause “significant harm” to his neighborhood.

Another Woodhaven resident, Becky Morris, went further with her request, asking the board to grant no more than a B-1 zone — a Neighborhood Business District that provides “offices, retail, and personal services for … people in adjacent residential neighborhoods.”

Morris said even a B-2 designation would allow for “24/7 businesses” such as hotels and motels, which she wished to avoid.

Former planning commissioner and Woodhaven resident Mark Godfrey also spoke at the meeting, as he said the commission should consider the potential utilities and sewage problems in the area.

After more discussion, commissioner Deborah Martin took the position that planners should wait until a prospective buyer comes forward before granting a zone and potentially pigeonholing what type of businesses can go on the property.

Trinity Episcopal Church priest-in-charge the Rev. Ken Ritter later took the podium and said he believes the church would be amenable to accepting a B-2 designation rather than the more large-scale B-4 label.   

“As Robin said in his presentation, we certainly want to do something that’s good for the church, but also that’s not objectionable to the neighborhood,” Ritter said.

Ritter said he worried that if the church did know what their zone would be, they would be limited in terms of marketing the property to potential buyers.

In response, Morris again went before the commission and reiterated that the zone would be better suited as a B-1. Martin then said that zoning would not be compatible for this type of area, as other commissioners had also already said.

But Morris remained steadfast, saying the B-1 zone is the best option.

The outcome remains to be seen, as the commission unanimously voted to table the application until its next gathering in a month.

Trinity Episcopal Day School is scheduled to officially close its doors at the end of May. Today marks the last day of classes.