Annexation foes mount case against plan

TUPELO – Annexation opponents will use Tupelo’s own comprehensive plan to challenge the city’s efforts to expand its boundaries by more than 16 square miles.
Attorneys on both sides of the annexation case met with Judge Edward C. Prisock during a two-hour hearing Tuesday in Lee County Chancery Court.
They were there to negotiate minor legal matters related to the case, but in doing so, they revealed some of the arguments likely to emerge during a trial, which has not yet been set.
For one thing, the county will use the same expert witness it employed the last time Tupelo tried to annex land: Chris Watson, an Oxford-based land planner, who helped defeat Tupelo in 2006 when a judge tossed the case from court.
This time, Watson apparently will use the city’s new comprehensive plan to prove annexation is unnecessary, said Martha Stegall, an attorney for Tupelo.
The plan charts the city’s growth for the next 15 years and makes recommendations about land use and building issues, including higher-density development on existing city land. It was adopted in December and cost taxpayers $120,000.
Stegall said Watson will argue that the plan shows there is no need for the city to expand and that the proposed areas of annexation aren’t even in the city’s growth path.
“This is a mischaracterization of the new comprehensive plan,” Stegall told the judge.
Tupelo City Planner Pat Falkner agreed. When contacted by the Daily Journal later Tuesday, Falkner said the plan takes into consideration the proposed annexation when determining the city’s land needs.
It doesn’t suggest the annexation is unnecessary, he said. To the contrary, it concludes “our growth needs would be met (only) if we can do that annexation.”
As for the city’s paths of growth, Falkner said the plan doesn’t delve into that topic.
The city of Saltillo also opposes the annexation. Its attorney apparently will argue that in its past annexation, Tupelo didn’t satisfactorily meet requirements outlined in the plan.
Jason Herring, attorney for Saltillo, didn’t yet provide information about how he’ll prove that, but he must do so before July 3.
Stegall said the city plans to put some $18 million of infrastructure in the annexed areas. She also wanted Prisock to force annexation opponents to give her more information about their arguments.
But Herring and Chad Mask, a Jackson-based attorney for Lee County, said they didn’t have much information beyond what the city already possessed.
That’s because they claim it’s the city’s job to show it should be allowed to annex and therefore the city’s responsibility to produce data.
“The burden is not on Lee County to do an independent analysis of each of the 12 indicia for annexation,” Mask said. “Lee County’s witnesses did not do an independent analysis.”
An indicia is a legal term loosely translated as signs or evidence. In Mississippi, a community must satisfy 12 different indicia of reasonableness to annex land.
The city had filed its petition to annex in April 2008. It wants 16.15 square miles and about 2,850 residents from unincorporated areas in various parts of the county. A trial could be set for late this year or early next year.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal