Officials mull long-range planning needs

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Brookhaven’s long-range development could hinge on looking atthe big picture, meaning the region as well as the city, said acity planner who met with the Comprehensive Planning Board Tuesdaynight.

Slaughter and Associates’ Sue Chamberlain brought a rough draftof the comprehensive plan put together by the board for officialsto review and correct. She said Brookhaven is a great city in aregion that is battling economically, and that officials need tolook at that as a concern when they’re thinking long range.

“You’ve got a solid infrastructure, and most of your economicdevelopment per se is inside the city limits, but you rely on acommunity college that’s in another location, and you have to go toMcComb and Jackson for advanced medical services,” she said. “Whenyou look at this community it’s important to understand the regionas a whole is not doing as well as the rest of Mississippi. This isnot just about getting another business in the industrial park, buthow to link the strengths of the region.”

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Tuesday night’s discussion touched on a variety of topics,including liquor sales and their impact on cities similar in sizeto Brookhaven, Brookhaven’s strong sales tax collections and theneed locally for more sidewalks to accommodate pedestriantraffic.

One of Brookhaven’s strengths that can be built upon,Chamberlain said, is the intellectual community that thrives on thearts and education. On the flip side, however, there are not a lotof industries or attractions that draw young educated people backto the community.

“You have a strong retail section, and you’re a regionaltransportation hub, and while that’s wonderful, those jobs areeasily interchangeable,” she said. “So there might not be the needto create a highly skilled educated population, which is adichotomy with this community because you have such intellectualstimulation here.”

Mayor Bob Massengill said the governor has recently put togethera partnership of leaders from the southwest part of the state withthe vision of helping bring industries to the area.

“We’re trying to come up with something that will help stimulatethe interest in a large company coming to this area,” he said. “Andwe feel we’re the place they need to be.

“Brookhaven, McComb or Natchez are the places these industriesneed to locate, and we’re the only one of those that has theindustrial park that is ready.”

Another point of comparison was the issue of alcohol sales, asboth McComb and Natchez sell liquor in their city limits. Whilemonthly sales tax totals between the three cities are similar,officials believe Brookhaven’s auto sales industry leads the othertwo.

“McComb and Natchez are about the same size and have liquor andliquor stores,” said Massengill. “We’re about the same size, but Iwould imagine their auto sales are probably less than ours.”

Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell asked Chamberlain if the alcoholban could be affecting the food and beverage industry.

“If we want to look at this issue, if I could find a sistercommunity, about the same size and also a regional hub that hasalcohol sales, I could do a comparison as to what that differencemight be,” Chamberlain said. “You could draw a conclusion fromthat.”

On that note, however, Chamberlain said the city’s sales taxnumbers were strong based on what the community has to offer. Thedaily population of the city when commuters and out-of-townshoppers are added in is more like 30,000 than the 14,000 estimatedpopulation after the annexation.

“The sales taxes are unbelievable, y’all are blowing and going,”she said.

Another important issue for the future, Chamberlain said, andthe aldermen agreed, is “walkability.” More sidewalks need to beadded to the infrastructure in the future, not just for aestheticreasons but for safety reasons as well.

“By law if you live within a mile of school you have to provideyour own transportation,” said Alderman at Large Les Bumgarner. “Sokids are walking to school in the streets because property ownersdon’t want them in their yards. It’s dangerous.”

The board of aldermen and members of the planning commissiondiscussed other issues such as affordable housing, apartments andcondominiums, and historic revitalization. Design guidelines forfranchise architecture will be an issue in the future, aldermensaid, and considerable time will be given to land useconsiderations.

Meanwhile, Chamberlain said she will take the rough draft andmake corrections and additions, and then will return it to the cityfor further consideration.

Once the final copy is ready, copies will be placed at thepublic library, the government complex and the chamber of commerce,as well as in a link to the city Web site. After that, a publichearing will be held for members of the community to voice theiropinions and concerns.