Vacant parking lot becomes a problem

Published 12:01 am Sunday, April 7, 2019

Drive down John R. Junkin Drive most nights and you cannot miss the unintended consequence of what can happen when a business closes and the property owner is out of town.

Now what was once the Kmart parking lot gets transformed in a 24-hour truck stop for passing 18-wheelers seeking a place to park.

The expansive parking lot is simply too tempting, particularly as it became abandoned a few years ago.

Long a fixture in the Natchez retail scene, the struggling Kmart closed the Natchez location in late 2016 and last year the owner, Sears Holding Company filed bankruptcy.

Now on some nights, particularly the weekends, the trucks fill up the lot more than it was on the night before Christmas back when Kmart was booming and last-minute shoppers were frenzied.

The 18-wheelers can number into the dozens. Adjacent property owner Barry Loy, who along with his family owns The Natchez Market No. 1, said the problem started slowly.

“It really wasn’t bad for a while,” the mild-mannered Loy said. “One or two started parking there and then one or two more.

“Then almost overnight, bam, they started filling up the lot. Sometimes it would be 20 or 30 trucks there.”

Loy said the problem affects his family’s property and the customers of his store.

“We’re not OK with it,” he said. “But we have no recourse. It’s not our property.

And there’s really no one local who can keep the trucks out, but their presence is tearing things up, Loy said.

“The problem is those big trucks are driving across our parking lot,” he said. “It’s not made for big trucks.

“It definitely doesn’t help our parking lot. We’ve spent many thousands of dollars trying to keep it maintained through the years,” Loy said.

“It has that loess soil underneath it that washes out.

Aside from the damage to the parking lot, Loy said the trucks have caused other problems as well.

“They do take over and they push our parking over further,” he said.

Last week when the store hosted a giant Idaho potato truck display store workers got out early and roped off part of their parking lot with turned over shopping carts and tape to give room for their own customers and the display.

“We’ve been fighting it for more than two years,” Loy said.

Early on truckers were parking down by the outer edge of the parking lot, parallel to the roadway.

The result was the trucks created a physical barrier almost directly in front of the store.

“You couldn’t see our store until you almost passed it,” he said.

Store workers then began using pallets to create a barrier themselves to prevent trucks from parking in that spot.

They got the message and stopped parking there for the most part, but the word got out among truckers that if you need a place to stop in Natchez, hit the old Kmart and the problem grew and grew.

“It’s not good for us at all. We’d love for them to be off the lot,” Loy said.

The whole problem is kind of a gray area, Natchez City Planner Riccardo Giani said. Because the parking lot is private property and because the city has been unable to get a response from the owners, Giani said he’s in a waiting game.

“We’ll see if I get a response from the owner, that remains to be seen,” Giani said, adding he’s sent multiple certified letters. “It’s been going on for a couple of months, and I’ve gotten several complaints.

Giani said the only real avenue the city has to help is if it could prove the property owner was somehow violating city zoning rules — like operating a paid truck stop in a retail business zone. Until Giani gets a response or Sears decides to help with the problem, Giani is in a holding pattern and Loy and his workers are forced to watch their neighborhood transform into a daily truck stop and their parking lot get slowly pulverized over time.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.