• 63°

Brookhaven preps comprehensive plan — City officials planning for Ole Brook’s future

Elected officials hope to create a newer roadmap for Brookhaven that will take the city into 2020 and beyond.

But first, it needs help from the community to choose the path that map should travel.

Less than a dozen residents met with most of the Brookhaven aldermen Thursday night at the Jimmy Furlow Senior Citizen Center for a public meeting to give input on a 2018 comprehensive plan. Ward 3 Alderwoman Mary Wilson and Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron were absent for the meeting, which was facilitated by Mike Slaughter, an urban planning consultant with Slaughter & Associates of Oxford.

Falana McDaniel came to the meeting to voice her concerns about city roads. She recently bought four new tires and wants to ride on smooth roads that are repaired rather than patched.

“The roads in Brookhaven are about as bad as Jackson,” she said.

It’s an issue she’d like to see addressed on the city’s comprehensive plan. But she has concerns about the plan itself, and the manner in which it will be used.

She wants to see a community committee created to serve as watch dogs to keep city officials on track. The committee would keep the dust from layering on the plan.

“My concern is, with a comprehensive plan, you do the plan and come back five years later,” she said.

McDaniel wants someone to look at it regularly to see what still needs to be done, what needs to change and what needs to be modified. She wants to be on that committee.

“Just having a plan is not good enough,” she said. “Anybody can put a plan together. You have to monitor the plan and see what is working on it and what needs to be modified.”

Ward 6 Alderwoman Shelley Harrigill wasn’t on the board in 2009 when the last comprehensive plan was adopted. She discovered that aldermen during that administration selected residents for a committee. She would rather see people volunteer to be on it so it will be filled with residents who feel like stakeholders and will oversee the plan’s progress.

“Your alderman may pick someone who’s not interested,” she said.

She envisions the committee meeting annually to go through the plan and “see what’s working and what’s not working,” she said.

She doesn’t believe that was done with the 2009 plan.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s been monitoring of goals and objectives,” she said. “They updated it and it just sat somewhere. Now we’re opening it again.”

However, city attorney Joe Fernald said the 2009 plan was highly successful and most of the items on it have come to fruition.

Fernald said the water and sewer projects were the last hurdle the city had to jump to complete the plan. That massive project is underway, with about 92 percent of the residents in annexed areas acquiring water and sewer. About eight percent of the households won’t get both city services, and some won’t get either, he said. Some are already served by a water district and some are on main thoroughfares separated by large undeveloped lots.

He said Slaughter will take the input from residents who attended Thursday’s meeting and combine it with the specific goals offered from meetings with aldermen over the past several weeks. Aldermen have met with consultants in small groups so as not to constitute a quorum, which would then make the meeting open to the public.

Fernald said Slaughter will create a draft for aldermen to review, then the board can decide whether to appoint an independent committee of residents and merchants to study it. Eventually, it will be voted on by the board and likely adopted.

What goes in the final plan is important.

“We want to set reasonable goals that are achievable,” Fernald said. “What we’re looking for is realistic solutions to these problems.”

Several people attending the meeting Thursday — including Ward 2 Alderman Shannon Moore — brought up items that the Board of Aldermen can’t control, though it makes for a good wishlist.

Moore said he’d like to see competitive industry and more restaurants, like McComb and Jackson. He said he wants the city to attract more upscale offerings. He also would like to see more employment opportunities available for graduates so they don’t leave the city to find jobs elsewhere.

Resident Bernetta Character suggested the city needs a coliseum-type venue for large programs and concerts.

All of those things are nice, but out of the board’s hands, Fernald said.

Brookhaven is unlikely to get an Applebee’s or a Ruby Tuesday like McComb because the city became wet too late. Those chains won’t build this close to established restaurants in McComb, he said.

“We missed the boat on that,” he said.

He said the plan needs to be a “realistic assessment of the role of government.”

Harrigill said that when she and Moore met with the consultants a few weeks ago, they were both concerned with ordinances involving rental properties. She said ordinances need to be strengthened so that renters become more responsible for the upkeep of the houses, since many of the rental units are managed by owners who don’t live in Brookhaven.

She took notes as residents spoke at the meeting Thursday, but is concerned that their requests are out of the scope of the board’s power.

“They’re great ideas, but it’s not things we’re equipped to do,” she said. “It’s things we don’t have control over.”

She said the suggestions were things that need to be offered — better job opportunities, improved educational resources, more restaurants — but not by the board.

Resident Lynne Lofton came to the meeting at the invitation of her alderman, Ward 4’s Jason Snider.

She said the discussion included several items that shouldn’t be on a comprehensive plan for city aldermen. New businesses, restaurants and entertainment venues are not up to the city to provide. She wants to see the plan address dilapidated properties and people who don’t follow the ordinances on the books, like the number of vehicles that can be parked in a yard. She said it’s a real issue with residents not keeping their property in decent shape.

“It affects people’s property values,” she said.

Property owners need to be held responsible and it needs to be enforced, she said.

She thinks it would be great to be able to have more job opportunities in the city with better pay, but it’s not something the city can control.

“I agree with all of that, but what can the city do about that?” she said.

Fernald said Slaughter will present a draft of the plan to the board, possibly in the next few months.

“He started his list with what the aldermen gave him in their small meetings,” he said. “He’ll come back with a written plan which will be reviewed and then the board can appoint a committee or not.”

Mayor Joe Cox said he wants to see what the final plan will cover.

“The comprehensive plan is a document that guides future growth and development for our city,” he said. “I look forward to receiving the rough copy of this document based on the information compiled and citizen input.”

The discussion over the 2009 plan touched on liquor sales and their impact on cities, Brookhaven’s strong sales tax collections and the need locally for more sidewalks to accommodate pedestrian traffic, as well as the intellectual community that thrives on the arts and education.

Aldermen in 2009 also discussed the fact that there are not a lot of industries or attractions that draw young educated people back to the community, nor is there an adequate market for residents to find rental homes or apartments if they are not yet ready to buy. Storefront appearance and sign height ordinance and standardization were also a topic of conversation.