Officials finalize draft of long-term city plan

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The city’s long-term plans are just weeks from being officialafter Tuesday night’s public hearing on the comprehensive planfinalized some minor changes in advance of an expected mid-Juneapproval by the board of aldermen.

The meeting was well-attended by members of the comprehensiveplanning board and all but one of the aldermen were present. Sinceeveryone at the meeting was familiar with the mechanics of theplan, there was little discussion beyond grammatical correctionsand amendments to maps.

“We have to hope people will come to vote (in the June 2 generalmunicipal elections) even though they didn’t come to the meeting,or else they don’t have a voice,” said Ward Four Alderwoman ShirleyEstes, alluding to the fact that no members of the general publicwere present for the hearing.

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There were a few topics that did merit discussion at the publichearing, the first being brought up by a county citizen who hadstopped by the boardroom just prior to the meeting but did notstay.

In the last meeting on the comprehensive plan, members of theboard had asked Slaughter and Associates’ Sue Chamberlain to try tofind a comparison between a city of Brookhaven’s size that doesn’tsell liquor and one that does, as there was speculation that liquorsales might boost sales tax coming into the city.

Slaughter and Associates’ Sam Russell said he and others in hisoffice had tried to find an economic study that compared dry citiesto wet cities to see if there was any difference.

“There are many studies on the evils of alcohol, if you will,but not a purely economic development study,” Russell said. “Thereis anecdotal evidence that if you go out and drink alcohol, you’reusually going to spend more money than if you can’t drink.”

However, Russell said, some cities have prospered once liquorsales were made legal. He cited Oxford as a city that began to growonce that ordinance was passed. Brookhaven regularly trails Oxford,Corinth, McComb and Natchez in sales tax numbers, all of which arewet towns.

“I was at a planning meeting in Memphis and one of the speakerswas the economic development guy for Oxford. He said for economicdevelopment in Oxford, one of the biggest things that happened wasthat they passed liquor by the drink,” he said.

However, Mayor Bob Massengill clarified that passing liquor lawsis not something the current board of aldermen is interested in atthis point.

“This board is not considering that at this point, I’d like forthat to be very clear,” he said. “The next board down the line maywant to consider that. It is a referendum, a vote of the peoplewould have to take place.”

The group also discussed new road ideas, such as making acut-through road from Brookman Drive to Union Street Extension.Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell said that it would cut downresponse time for ambulances to not have to go all the way out toHighway 51 and around.

There was also talk of a frontage road from Magee Drive to runnorth over the railroad tracks, though Russell said it isincreasingly difficult to get crossings over railroad tracks thesedays.

“I’m not saying it’s not possible, I’m just saying it’ssomething I’ve encountered in a few places,” he said.

Zoning and buffer areas were also a discussion, as there arecommercial areas around Highway 84, and Estes wanted to make sureit would be properly buffered between the businesses and MoretonEstates. Russell assured her there could be several different kindsof buffers that would be acceptable.

“When there are requests in the future to change the zonings,you’ll have to look at this plan,” Russell told the board. “Youhave to figure things out like why they want industrial zoning overhere, and not just give it to them because they want it. You haveto be able to say, ‘I’m sorry angry citizens, but we’ve planned forthat to be industrial for 20 years.'”

And city leaders pledged to adhere to the plan.

“One thing we need to guard against is this being put down andcollecting dust and never being looked at again,” said Ward SixAlderman David Phillips.

Massengill said the final grammatical errors and mapping issueswould be resolved, and the board will vote on the comprehensiveplan at the June 16 meeting.