Thursday, April 28, 2011
Citizens want voices heard
By SUE WATSON
Two community concerns of intense interest to Holly Springs residents were brought before the mayor and board of aldermen last week by two groups.
One group is worried about a proposed subdivision at the old Holly Springs Country Club property. The other group is worried about increasing crime in the city.
In an attempt to head off open discussion last week, the Mayor Andre’ DeBerry made two statements. He said he had received phone calls about police matters and about proposed housing units. He recommended public discourse be postponed until later in order to not take away time from the board’s agenda.
“We need a different venue,” he said.
In the end, the town hall meeting was set for Tuesday, April 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the Eddie Lee Smith Multi-Purpose Building.
“This is not to soften or to stop debate,” he said.
The private subdivision on the table will have many turns and opportunities for citizens to have input, but in the end, the city cannot deny lawful development in the city, DeBerry said.
“We will keep it an open process, but it is not officially before the board now,” he said.
Paul Lampley was not to be denied an opportunity for his group to speak, anyway.
“I think this group is not asking for discussion,” he said. “It could very well fall under community concerns. We are not asking for a debate. We are not asking for a decision. We are asking for the voice of citizens to be heard.”
“This issue is not before the board,” DeBerry said. “It is a concern but (not) a venue for it to be open for frank discussion.”
Alderman Calvin James differed and asked that the group be allowed to talk.
“I will defer,” said the mayor.
“It will still be open for that (town hall meeting), too,” said James.
“Here, you have a presentation that will in some way limit discussion,” DeBerry said.
Lampley asked to pass out talking points, thanked the board and mayor and then made a summary statement.
“Let me initially say, Mr. Mayor, and alderpersons, this group of individuals is not against low-rent housing. I came from there. This is America. Certain decisions end up being economic.”
Lampley said the proposed construction of 101 low-income housing units would affect the property values of adjacent property owners. The group’s concerns were relayed to the housing developer at the April 5 public hearing, he said.
“We felt our concerns fell on deaf ears,” Lampley said.
He listed reasons the group opposes the subdivision. It would impact existing communities going forward due to the density of the housing, he said.
Two realtors suggested the property values will fall if the development goes forward, he said.
Lampley questioned whether the proposed development fits the overall design for the city to be attractive and to create jobs.
“West Street was cited as an example that adds nothing to the town,” he said. “I believe it would be the same story at the golf course. The possibility of these persons owning houses is nil and void, I believe. This will be a constant flow of income – a revolving door for the developer – and not for homeowners.”
Lampley’s group asked whether the proposed housing development would fall under Section 8 qualified buyers and the presenter said “no” on one occasion then later changed the statement to a “yes.”
That caused the group to question the reliability of the developers, he said.
Ending his statements, Lampley said there are four possible victims, if this proposed development goes forward: “the immediate victims are the potential homebuyers; the second victim is the funding entity – Mississippi Home Corporation; the third victims are the residents of the community; and the final victim is the city of Holly Springs in making this kind of decision.”
He restated that the people of the existing community do not oppose low-income housing.
“We came from there,” he said.
DeBerry said once the developer has gotten financing the city will have a procedure to follow. The planning commission would have to approve the plat, a final plat would be drawn and registered in chancery court, then the matter would come before the board of aldermen. If the final plat meets the required standards and statutes, the city cannot deny the developer, he said.
Al Beck, another concerned citizen, cited the denial of a drug rehabilitation facility proposal to a group interested in the old Holly Springs Health and Rehabilitation building because of citizen protest that it would reduce property values.
“Is this dissimilar?” he asked.
The mayor said the issue was dissimilar because the request for the drug rehabilitation facility was a request for a variance.
“This developer said it would be rental for a long time. Is that not public housing?” Beck asked.
“No, not the same,” DeBerry said. “It is like Holly Hills and Southern Villas - built with private dollars and similar to MI College Homes - with private dollars.”
Lisa Liddy, at the meeting to discuss rising crime in the city, asked if the board of aldermen would be present at the town hall meeting.
“We want them to hear us,” she said. “We want to express our concerns.”
DeBerry said the city would make sure aldermen get the information.
Shane Strickland, owner of several gas centers in the area, asked if there is a way the city could purchase some old police cars and put them out as decoys to thwart crime.
“There are some things the city must and can do to fight crime,” DeBerry said. “Also, there are some things business can and must do to fight crime. We have to look at other options. Hopefully, we can discuss these things. Maybe, some Jane or John Doe out there has a solution.”
He suggested a neighborhood watch program.
“People know when a community is being watched, they (criminals) tend to stay out of the community,” he said
Charles Terry pointed out there is a spot for community concerns on the agenda and that the board room is the appropriate place to hear concerns of the citizens.
“You tell the concerned citizens you don’t have time to hear them,” he said. “It is something you need to address.”
“That was not my statement,” said the mayor. “My statement was to give you more time. Please don’t try to reshape my words.”
Alderman Russell Johnson said his number one problem is the community be given proper notice for the town hall meeting. He said he could not come to the April 26 meeting.
The mayor offered to set up another time.
“Let’s just hear it now,” said James. “You hear it while it is fresh on your mind. Just hear it - bring forth ideas.”
“I am not saying we couldn’t discuss this tonight,” said DeBerry. “I don’t want to reduce this to five minutes (each person).”
Liddy said she favored a public forum as long as public notice is given.
“I think there needs to be more notice,” said alderman Garrie Colhoun. “We only gave Lampley five minutes. You can’t really do it in this forum.”
The mayor said he did not want to drag it on, but do it quickly.
Tina Scott asked to speak. She said she appreciates both waiting for better public notice and also for not lingering on setting the town hall meeting. She said each alderman represents a different area of the city, and aldermen have the overall city to attend to. Maybe an attorney could be looking into what is best, she said.
“Where will that (the subdivision) put us 10 years from now?” Scott asked. “Will that impact our children 10 years from now?”
She said the developer did not address low-income and how it affects an area. Scott was concerned that low-income housing is situated mostly on the northern portion of the city - at Rankin Circle, another area already low-income near the proposed subdivision.
“Industry is looking at housing and at the school system,” she said. “We should be concerned on how this town looks.”
Scott said people will realize and be concerned that the population buying the homes will not be able to keep up payments, will have to refinance, and they will lose their credit rating.
“I would like to see the people sitting behind the desk (aldermen), ask ‘Where is the common good?’” she said. “MI College Homes is a testament. It ran down.”
The mayor said the city can come in and transform the subdivision as it is doing at MI College Homes.
“If we say no to these houses, we will not have to do that,” said Scott.
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