OUR OPINION: Bel Air debates internally for best post-tornado plan

Tupelo’s Bel Air neighborhood took some of the hardest hits from the EF3 tornado that plowed through a wide expanse of the city April 28. Those residents were among the first to begin piling debris for disposal and covering damaged homes in the ubiquitous blue plastic signaling damage and repairs.

It is not surprising that on Monday night Bel Air residents, many with long ties to their neighborhood and their neighbors, brought strong opinions to a meeting about establishing a conservation overlay district to provide a legal barrier against unscrupulous and/or unsightly redevelopment and recovery.

Bel Air’s residents, after all, are among the most involved citywide in civic leadership, city recreation programs, public school support and visible loyalty for a strong community. As a neighborhood, it has been thinking for itself for a long time; its independent streak is reflected in the strongly held and diverse opinions of residents about recovery.

Plans to cast a vote for or against an overlay district were not fulfilled Monday night because residents clearly had not become of one mind enough to make a decision one way or another.

Deciding a course for recovery is not a neatly packaged plan complete with blueprints, and the overlays generally adopted by the adjacent Joyner and Sharon Hills associations may not make a good fit for Bel Air.

Joyner and then Sharon Hills neighborhood associations overwhelmingly approved the overlay districts requiring a five-member committee of residents in the neighborhood to approve a site and floor plans, full elevation drawings and related exterior materials list.

Bel Air residents met at the north Tupelo neighborhood’s community center, a long-ago site of Tupelo Country Club, on Monday to discuss the possible formation of an oversight committee following the late-April tornado.

The design review committees must approve the residential housing construction prior to property owners receiving necessary permits. The overlay districts expire in three months unless the City Council decides otherwise.

Former Mayor Ed Neelly told the Bel Air crowd he supports the tools to protect the residential area.

“Anything we have to help protect the values of our homes and neighborhood is to our benefit,” he said.

Many agree with Neelly; many others do not.

A vote could be scheduled for next week within the neighborhood. Working through the options, ideas and arguments is democracy at its most basic and robust.

The collective neighbors in Bel Air have stood up for their popular, enduring, well-educated and advantageously located area for more than 50 years.

History and good judgment suggest Bel Air will find a solution to this greatest-ever challenge.