CATEGORY: ALD Tupelo City Council



By Philip Moulden

Daily Journal

Tupelo City Council agreed Tuesday to try to buy the prime cut of a 44-acre tract off Lawndale Drive, the latest bid in negotiations to end a 3-year-old lawsuit while blocking development of multifamily housing on the property.

Council members, meeting in executive session, voted to offer $236,600 for just over 12 acres of the land that lies on the west side of Lawndale north of Harrison Street.

Another 32 acres lying farther west would be rezoned from single-family residential (R-1M) to two-family residential (R-2) under the proposal. The city would also be committed to build a street into that property at some later date.

Council’s 8-0 vote quashed an apparent settlement between the landowners and the city that would have rezoned the entire area to two-family housing (R-2) with no change in ownership. Under that proposal, the city would also have paid the owners $114,000 for accepting the two-family limit.

That pact was reached last fall, but it required that the property owners go through the city’s process for a zoning change.

Bill Beasley, attorney for owners L.H. Brisco and G.E. Cates, voiced surprise when the council left its closed session and the vote was announced.

“Huh-uh,” he said when asked if that was the agreement. “They changed the deal, as they say.”

It was uncertain how Beasley’s clients would react to the council’s latest offer.

“If it flies”

Brisco and Cates sued the city in 1993 after the old Tupelo Board of Aldermen voted to rezone the property from its then multifamily housing (R-3) designation to single-family, a move that blocked construction of apartments. The owners had proposed putting a 128-unit apartment complex on 12 acres of the site.

The owners contended the city illegally devalued the land through that rezoning.

A similar rezoning effort by the city had been thrown out in the 1970s by the state Supreme Court, which reinstituted the R-3 status.

City officials said the $236,600 offer was originally “bandied about” by the owners in 1993. The city rejected it then, contending it was too expensive.

“We’ll have to see if it flies or not,” city attorney Jamie Barnett said Tuesday night after the vote.

“The beauty of this particular deal is that the city comes out with land that something can be done with,” Barnett said. “What we’re doing is buying everything that can be seen from Lawndale Drive.”

At the same time, it would assure the exclusion of apartments along that part of Lawndale, an area that council members believe already has too many apartment buildings.

Other action

In other action, the council rejected by a 1-7 vote a proposal to seek state Legislature authority to require Tupelo Flea Market vendors to buy a privilege license to operate.

Ward 5 Councilman Tommy Doty proposed the measure, suggesting a $25 annual license. State Sen. Alan Nunnelee had already produced a bill to grant that power and was awaiting word from council on whether to proceed, Doty said.

But other council members argued the measure could hurt small vendors and perhaps drive business away from the flea market. The loss of a vendor over a $25 fee could cost the city much more in the loss of sales taxes that vendor generates, said at-large Councilwoman Carolyn Mauldin.

“We’re really penalizing the small business person that might only come here one time,” she added.

Council President James Williams was absent.

The council also voted 7-1 to demolish the rear of the old Dollar General Store building at West Main and Green streets and to seek proposals to develop the front portion.

City officials say 37 new parking spaces could be generated from the demolished portion of the building. They hope the front part can be turned into five storefronts, with perhaps apartments on a second story.

“I think a developer would jump at buying that building once the parking is in there,” said Ward 7 Councilman Danny Barrows.

Ward 3 Councilman Smith Heavner opposed the plan, contending it was too speculative and needed more study.

“We’re guessing at what we can do,” he said.

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