Thursday, July 1, 2010
Mayor urges board to plan for future
By SUE WATSON
A windfall from participation in the refurbishing of Mississippi College Apartments in North Holly Springs may be used by the City of Holly Springs to plan for future economic growth and development.
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry outlined how the unexpected funds can be used to position the city for future growth. He urged the board of aldermen to use windfall money to update the city’s comprehensive plan and to hire a consultant to help with strategic planning.
Bob Barber is the mayor’s choice for work on the comprehensive plan and Ken Farrell is his choice as a consultant for strategic planning.
DeBerry said the money comes from working to transfer the MI Apartments from HUD (Housing and Urban Development) to the city and then on to a developer who will rebuild the apartments. Wishcamper Developers will renovate the apartments and then manage them. The mayor said the windfall will best be spent in Phase I planning, and during that phase to secure funding for Phase II planning under contractual agreements with Barber and Farrell.
Some aldermen were outspoken about hiring Farrell to work with the strategic plan because he already has interests in developments on the south side of town. They felt he could have a conflict of interest if he has business interests here and also is hired to develop a strategic plan for the city.
However, aldermen were excited about the idea of planning now for the city’s future growth with money not obtained by taxing citizens.
The mayor proposed the Main Street Program be incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan as it is updated to implement some Main Street objectives - a community field summary, downtown, traffic flow and parking and codes - especially architectural controls.
He said federal programs are now requiring more information from governments in proposals for funding. The data obtained by comprehensive planning and strategic planning will help the city garner both federal dollars and attract new industry and business, he said.
The city would invite the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority and Marshall County to participate in some planning where the two entities have common goals, he said.
DeBerry said governments today are having to identify supersites - locations where several hundred acres are available for locating a large industry like the Toyota plant - in order to be considered for large projects.
He said the Tennessee Valley Authority looks to governments who have done needs assessments, strategic plans and who are looking for ways to support supersites, projects the mayor would like to attract.
Farrell would recommend a 15-point needs assessment for the city’s strategic plan.
DeBerry said obtaining designations and having plans in hand can help add points and special considerations when grants and loans are being considered by various agencies. He urged the board to act quickly to use the windfall dollars to plan rather than roll the money into city operations.
“It will help get funding down the road,” he said, “to prepare for expansion coming down Highway 78 (future Interstate 22). We’ve got to position ourselves to be ready, to identify what our strategic needs are.”
Alderman Russell Johnson said finishing the north bypass and working with issues of industrial development zones and covenants for development are important considerations.
“My main concern is the development of covenants as to what can go into commercial zones,” he said.
DeBerry agreed and added that some issues in PUDs (Planned Unit Developments) on the south side of town have come up and it is important to look at them in concert with the comprehensive plan and strategic plan for development.
“The other thing is utilities,” Johnson said. “How will they be involved in assuring infrastructure is there?”
DeBerry said Barber knows the technical level requirements and how to make goals and assessments, while Farrell knows the needs of developers.
Alderman Garrie Colhoun suggested the work could be done by one consultant.
“Why would we need to have Ken Farrell and Bob Barber to do the same thing?” he asked.
Attorney Ki Jones said the strategic plan will tell where the city needs to go while Barber’s work would be concerned with zoning ordinances and plans and land use regulations.
Colhoun questioned Farrell’s development in Oxford, saying it failed to materialize and the Holly Springs Commons has resulted in a strip mall that is half occupied with tenants.
“Why are we putting this kind of faith in Ken Farrell?” he asked.
DeBerry said Farrell and his partner Lance Forsdick had done what they said they would do in Holly Springs and that Farrell had sold out his interest in the Oxford Commons but is working on other large projects.
“Farrell came to us and did make it happen in Holly Springs - a development that is a major economic anchor in this town,” DeBerry said. “Walmart is part of the whole piece. He divested himself with Oxford.”
Alderman Calvin James asked if the strategic plan would address rerouting of heavy truck traffic away from downtown which, he said, tends to choke traffic flow.
“Barber does this,” DeBerry said.
The mayor then offered a story of how Tupelo became a major municipality in Mississippi while Corinth did not grow, all because Tupelo planned for growth by building streets before the city needed them and thus directed its growth.
“I believe the county needs to be involved because you have dirt, gravel, large trucks going through residential areas,” James said.
“This plan will be inclusive of other stakeholders in the city who we ask to bring money to the table,” DeBerry said. “Doctors, school systems, childcare – these people need to be on board. I say, take a gift (the windfall) and use it for the long-range good of the city.”
Johnson said the city needs to look for jobs that arise from developments like Chickasaw Trail, power plants, the north Holly Springs bypass.
“They will generate high quality jobs and we need to tap into that,” he said.
“We are in the right spot,” DeBerry said. “The question is, do we get ready for it?”
Johnson said he wants the plan to include how the city will lock into Chickasaw Trail-type development.
“We’ve got to stick a pin (on the map) and ask is this where we start,” said the mayor. “We have not done it because of financial and budget concerns. Now we have identified a windfall the city will realize. This time we are betting house money, not risking a bet on our budget. We can take that money to position ourselves for economic, industrial and commercial development.”
Alderman Johnnie Bagley said she was very excited about the proposal but wanted more time to study it.
“We are playing with house money,” DeBerry said. “I see this as a watershed moment when you can do something you probably could not do otherwise.”
Colhoun expressed his concern about salaries and figures that would be paid to the two prospective consultants.
“Time is a-wasting,” DeBerry said. “At some point in time, with what’s happening at MI College Apartments and tax credits on the north side of town - these things will have a cumulative impact. Companies plan five years out. You’ve got to be ready when they are. It is not a cost to taxpayers of Holly Springs, not one red cent.”
Johnson held reservations.
“I think Farrell already has too much involvement and that they will tell us what we already know,” he said. “We are in the best position in Marshall County and we need to be prepared.”
DeBerry agreed there are plenty of knowns.
“The crux is, how do we put all the knowns into a set of objectives of how to get there?” he said. “I think the city takes the initiative and will include the county in a way to compel them to come along.”
“In doing this, why can’t we include the county, too?” asked Bagley.
DeBerry said when talking about Holly Springs community development the action is with the city, while if talking about industrial development there will be some connection between the Highway 72 projects.
“Utilities will be the key,” he said. “The county is depending on Holly Springs. We’ve got to move this ship. We’ve got to drive this train. Holly Springs is out there trying to implement its own future.
“We need to realize the Industrial Development Authority can help us coordinate this and the Mississippi Development Authority and TVA have strategists.”
Bagley asked for more time.
“I love this idea,” she said. “Give us a chance to look at it.”
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