Thursday, May 5, 2011
Dialog begins at town hall meeting
By SUE WATSON
A town hall meeting, held April 26 at the Eddie Lee Smith Multi-Purpose building, brought a diverse community into a closer one as people talked about what they like and do not like in Holly Springs.
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry spoke and answered questions from an estimated crowd of 150. Business people and homeowners came and let their voices be heard.
In prefacing remarks, the mayor called the meeting “democracy at its best – an opportunity to voice our concerns – a true democracy.”
Two main topics were covered – a proposed 101-unit, single-family, low-income housing subdivision at the old Holly Springs Country Club and Golf Course property and rising violent, unsolved crime in the city.
Alvenice Brown of West Woodward Avenue, who lives across the street from the proposed development, was first up.
She said it is not a good idea to put 100 houses all at once in one spot. It would be a disservice to the neighborhood and to the children who would be coming in.
‘It is impossible to police and to make sure it is a thriving, contributing community,” she said.
Paul Lampley, who also lives in a surrounding neighborhood, said property values of existing homes would go down if low-income housing comes in. It is a matter of economics, he said.
“We are definitely for low-income houses, but there is some concern in our local area,” he said.
DeBerry said Revels LLC, a private group, wants to enter a partnership with Mississippi Homes Corporation, a Housing and Urban Development-like entity, to construct the subdivision – a $7.4 million construction project.
He said the managing partner would be vetted just as Wishcamper was in proposing to rehabilitate MI College Homes Apartments.
“It’s not guaranteed to get developed,” he said.
The permitting process for the proposed subdivision would be handled by standard procedures - the existing ordinances and zoning regulations and uses on the books in the city.
Others expressed their preferences and beliefs.
“We don’t want low income. We have a nice neighborhood,” said Vernelle Winter.
“We have a crime problem, now,” said David Hollis. “How will we police this proposed project?”
Tim Liddy, a businessman, asked if the city has to put up anything.
DeBerry said no, then said he will talk to the potential builders, see a model development and bring back pictures.
Sharon Crane Brown voiced concern about small lots and crowding. She reported at a public hearing that representatives with Revels LLC said the rent would be $621 a month for 15 years, with $5,000 a year equity in the house to buy it after 15 years.
“My main concern, I work for a utility company, is people struggle to pay rent,” she said.
Bill Scott, a resident of Swaney Drive, said people would be ripped off because they can never expect to own the home.
“It is a justice problem,” he said.
Phil Boatwright asked if a person can pay cash.
“No, the developer said 15 years rent,” said Scott.
DeBerry said this type development is not a new concept, and added, “I am not here to defend the concept.”
He said the purpose of discussion is to get the facts out so people can make a decision.
“The business model says people go into business to make money, not to lose it,” he added.
DeBerry asked what it would cost to go to a bank and borrow $150,000 for a home loan.
Hollis, a builder, said planners would try to keep properties of like market values together in the same neighborhood. Mixing of lower and higher value properties always brings down the market value of the higher dollar property, he said.
Liddy asked what incentive would there be to a buyer who does not have some of his own money in a property.
DeBerry said there is an incentive; in this case the buyer cannot obtain a loan otherwise.
Rep. Kelvin Buck asked if the developer had contacted zoning to see if the subdivision meets the city’s requirements.
DeBerry said Revels LLC had contacted zoning.
George Zinn asked if there are plans for green zones or buffers.
“The developer said they will make egress and ingress to quality standards and the houses, themselves, would be a buffer,” DeBerry answered.
Sharon Brown said the developer said they could build either brick houses or use some kind of siding.
DeBerry said those elements would be reviewed by the architectural commission.
“We do need standards, but we cannot go outside our own standards,” the mayor said.
Paul Lampley wrapped up discussion with three points. He said the name Revels LLC could have been chosen by the developer to make the permitting process smoother. He asked if the city would benefit overall by an increased tax base. Lastly, he said a call to Mississippi Home Corporation indicated the entity has a completely different notion than what Revels said at the public hearing.
“They did not say anything about low-rent and constant turnover,” he said.
Charles Terry argued that low-income housing would push out established housing over time, for which he received applause.
DeBerry said he sees Terry’s point.
Alvencie Brown added a point of warning.
“For those who are not concerned about what we want, elections are coming,” she said.
Liddy asked why the conversation was taking place if, in the end, the city cannot refuse the developer.
Lisa Liddy asked if the public comment provided at the hearing held by Revels LLC would be taken to heart.
DeBerry said anyone who wished to provide written comment can bring it to him and he will make sure the comments are forwarded to the proper source.
(Editor’s note: the discussion about crime in the city will be published in a separate article as soon as space becomes available.)
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