Planner thinks annexation area too much for city

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 25, 2003

An urban planner working with objectors to Brookhaven’sannexation plans has questioned the city’s ability to handle anover 16-square mile expansion.

Kathy Garner of Hattiesburg, who operates a planning consultingfirm, was the primary witness Monday as testimony resumed inLincoln County Chancery Court. Annexation could more than triplethe city’s current size, but more than 200 objectors arechallenging the city’s ability to meet its obligations.

Like city annexation consultant Mike Slaughter earlier, Garner’stestimony focused on the 12 indicia of reasonableness the city’smust prove in order to be able to annex. The indicia include suchfactors as path of growth, need to expand, need for zoning andmunicipal level services.

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Garner said the size of the annexation is not reasonable andsuggested that smaller annexation efforts should have beenundertaken over the years as industrial and other developmentoccurred .

Garner acknowledged that the 914 acres of unconstrained landcurrently available for development in the city is spread out.

However, Garner cited a 1979 city land use study that predicted600 acres would be needed for a city population of approximately16,000 people in 2000. The city’s current population is 9,861 whilethe proposed annexation would increase the total of over13,000.

“That leads me to believe the 914 acres could last a while,”said Garner, at one point saying the expectancy of the land usecould be 33 years.

Regarding path of growth issues, Garner said there was a”chicken or the egg” situation as far as development. She saidthere were a number of businesses outside the city that have beenin place a significant amount of time and, in some cases, thedevelopment was not spill over growth.

“In general, I do not believe every road in and out of the cityis in the path of growth,” Garner said.

On the topic of potential health hazards, Garner said acentralized sewer system would be ideal but that is not feasible orrealistic. She also mentioned complaints from residents about thesmell from the city Waste Water Treatment Plant that prompted aninquiry from the state Department of Environmental Quality.

“It definitely goes to past performance,” Garner said, referringto another indicia about the city’s ability to handle priorannexations.

Also on that topic, Garner cited a lack of studies to plan forthe city’s growth since its last annexation in the 1970s. She saidplanning is about more than zoning.

“To have planning committee meetings only when there are zoningchanges is not active,” Garner said.

When questioned about county residents getting fire insurancebenefits even though they are outside the city, Garner said cityofficials could control that by not providing the service outsidethe city limits. She said it is not fair to blame county residentsfor actions by the city and insurance companies.

Among city services, Garner mentioned ditches that needed to becleaned out. She said the city’s past performance was “veryquestionable,” particularly in lower income areas.

“The city should be providing the services and showing that theperformance is there,” Garner said.

Garner had some strong doubts about the city’s ability to handlezoning issues in the annexation area. She said the city has nodesignated planner and indicated that hiring one additionalbuilding inspector would be insufficient.

“I think it would an overwhelming burden for the city toadminister in that large an area,” Garner said.

Garner was scheduled to continue direct testimony Tuesday andthen be cross examined by the city’s annexation attorney JerryMills. The trial is expected to continue into Wednesday.