House blocks easing of Trace height restrictions

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Legislation that would have removed the height restriction for structures within 1,000 feet of the Natchez Trace Parkway came to a screeching halt Thursday in the state House.
The House defeated it 62-54, though Transportation Committee Chair Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, held the bill on a motion to reconsider. He said he might try to revive the bill by amending it in a way that is acceptable to a House majority.
Under current law, structures within 1,000 feet of the Parkway’s boundaries in Mississippi cannot be more than 35 feet tall with the exception of some agriculture structures, such as silos, as well as school and church buildings, exceptions allowed by legislation in the early 2000s. The original no-exceptions law was passed in 1988.
The change passed the Senate earlier this session without a dissenting vote, allowing buildings to be constructed within 1,000 feet of the Parkway as long as they are hidden by topography or vegetation. Johnson took out vegetation, meaning the building would have to be hidden by a hill or cliff.
After the bill’s demise, Johnson admitted there are few areas in Mississippi with the topography to hide a building more than 35 feet tall.
Dale Wilkerson, the acting Natchez Trace Parkway superintendent, said he was not made aware of the legislation until Thursday. He said he spoke with Johnson and Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who voted against the bill, after it was defeated in the House.
“The current law protects the scenic integrity of the Parkway and is very important to us,” Wilkerson said. He said efforts to change current law “could have far-reaching consequences that may not be anticipated.”
The bill was authored by Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, apparently because of a group wanting to construct an assisted living home in the Jackson area. Johnson said he might try to change the bill to make it specific to that project.
The 444-mile Parkway, headquartered in Tupelo, runs from Natchez to Nashville.
All four House members who serve a portion of Lee County – Holland, Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, and Randy Boyd, R-Mantachie, voted against the proposal.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com