Saltillo takes its turn at annexation trial

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – City Planner Pat Falkner kept the witness stand a third straight day Thursday in Tupelo’s annexation trial in Lee County Chancery Court.
This time, Falkner took questions for five hours from Saltillo attorney Henderson Jones, who asked how Tupelo planned to develop the proposed annexation areas.
Saltillo is joined by Plantersville, Lee County and more than 100 residents in opposition to the annexation bid.
Tupelo wants to absorb 16.15 square miles of unincorporated land and 2,800 residents from six different areas circling the city.
Jones said Saltillo opposes the two areas closest to its own boundaries. During trial, he dissected both areas in great detail, asking Falkner to describe current land conditions and potential future purposes.
Much of the land in the north and northeast portions of the proposed annexation, the portions Saltillo opposes, sits in a flood plain or is considered agricultural.
When Falkner told the court Tupelo had only general ideas of how each area would be zoned and developed, Jones appeared incredulous.
“We need to know what’s going to happen there,” Jones demanded about one spot in particular, asking whether the city envisioned a gas station or a big box store or something entirely different there.
Falkner, who remained emotionless throughout his testimony, said the city doesn’t determine what gets built where. It only zones properties for general use – commercial or residential, for example. Market forces then decide what gets built.
The city will conduct a thorough study of each area if annexation passes, Falkner said, and it will assign zoning at that time.
Jones also tried to prove that annexation veers from Tupelo’s preferred growth method as outlined in its newly adopted comprehensive plan.
That plan, called Tupelo 2025, calls for denser development and better use of existing space. But, city attorney Guy Mitchell noted later in the day, the plan also clearly states a need to annex.
Mitchell then referred to a page in the plan estimating that Tupelo will run out of available land within the next 15 years unless it expands its boundaries.
Unlike previous attorneys whose rapid-fire questions raised the trial’s intensity, Jones took long silent, pauses between queries. He often studied maps and shuffled through his notes, as if preparing for his next move.
The previous two days of testimony were directed by Mitchell, county attorney Chad Mask and Plantersville attorney Jason Shelton. Like Jones, Mask and Shelton are on the opposing side of the annexation case.
Mitchell represents Tupelo.
Falkner, who has been on the witness stand since Tuesday morning, will continue taking questions when court resumes Monday.
Afterward, the court is expected to hear from Tupelo’s city clerk and chief financial officer.
The trial will last an estimated five to six weeks.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.