Tupelo's growth needs contested

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Testimony from City Planner Pat Falkner consumed the entire second day of Tupelo’s annexation trial Tuesday in Lee County Chancery Court.
Falkner was introduced as an expert witness for the city, which wants to annex 16.15 square miles of unincorporated land. He spent the morning defending the city’s plans for expansion.
But Lee County, which opposes annexation, used the afternoon session to poke holes in Falkner’s opinions.
Tupelo’s annexation bid is opposed by Lee County, the cities of Plantersville and Saltillo and more than 100 individual residents.
It is unopposed by the town of Sherman, which on Tuesday filed a court document stating it has “no objection to the extension of the boundaries of Tupelo.”
The trial began Monday and is expected to last five or six weeks.
Under questioning by city attorney Guy Mitchell, Falkner told the court Tupelo has exhausted much of its developable land and now needs expansion in order to thrive.
To date, the city has 6,200 acres of suitable land for development. That’s 18 percent of the municipality’s total acreage. Falkner said a city typically seeks expansion when its developable land hits 20 to 40 percent.
But county attorney Chad Mask argued those statistics mean nothing unless Tupelo knows how fast its available land gets developed – otherwise called its land absorption rate. The city, Mask revealed, doesn’t know that.
“Simply knowing the raw numbers of aces of developable land in the city,” Mask said, “by itself, that’s a meaningless factor isn’t it?”
Mask then gave a hypothetical example of two cities, each with the same number of acres for development. If one city develops five times faster than the other, the first city might need annexation while the other doesn’t.
Mask then suggested Tupelo is similar to the slow-growth community. He used its own statistics to show a years-long decline in Tupelo-issued building permits.
Mask argued the community’s housing needs have been met, and it doesn’t require expansion.
But Falkner defended his position. He said building permits are up when looking at a longer-term trend and that land-absorption rate isn’t a critical factor in determining growth needs.
He testified that, after the city’s most recent annexation in 1989, more than 80 percent of Tupelo’s growth occurred inside the annexed areas. And the development continues today just outside the city’s borders, especially on the western edge of town.
In addition, Falkner confirmed, Toyota’s anticipated plant near Blue Springs was considered in Tupelo’s new comprehensive plan. The plan, called Tupelo 2025, envisions major population growth and a continued need for development.
Both the city and the county used the comprehensive plan as the basis for arguments for and against annexation. The city claims the plan supports annexation; the county claims it does only because the city wanted it to.
Testimony is expected to continue today with City Clerk Kim Hanna and Chief Financial Officer Lynn Norris testifying.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.