By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Heavy discussion among Bel Air residents in recent days about post-tornado residential regulation led to an opinionated crowd at the neighborhood’s community center Monday.
Many in the group showed up planning to support or reject an oversight committee to police standards of houses built and rebuilt after the April 28 tornado destroyed or heavily damaged many in the north Tupelo neighborhood.
Sherry Elmore, president of the Bel Air Neighborhood Association, stood at the front of the meeting room as neighbors found familiar faces and a place to sit. Three days earlier, Elmore sent an email to dozens of residents informing them of the planned vote on the proposed neighborhood conservation overlay district.
“I understand that this is short notice,” her email stated. “However I cannot stress to you enough the importance of being at the meeting Monday night to vote for or against the proposal.”
Residents who turned out to vote instead had to settle for members of the crowd sharing views on why the proposed overlay district made sense or seemed like a big headache.
Mayor Jason Shelton endorsed the neighborhood conservation overlay district in Joyner and other places where restrictive covenants had expired, providing little protection to keep unscrupulous developers from building incompatible houses, potentially decreasing property values and making the area less desirable.
Joyner and then Sharon Hills neighborhood associations overwhelmingly approved the overlay districts that will require a five-member committee of residents in the neighborhood to approve a site and floor plans, full elevation drawings and related exterior materials list.
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.
Zeal to protect Bel Air’s property values and neighborhood personality faced others worried about excessive regulation and property rights.
Retiree David Franks stood from near the back row to share his opposition to needing his neighbors’ approval for significant outside renovation or construction.
“What I don’t like is the architectural review aspect that’s burdensome to the homeowner,” he said. “I really don’t need anybody to help me pick out paint colors.”
Lakeshire homeowner Phil Ruff said he opposed the overlay district. “I’m very comfortable letting my neighbors decide how they want to do it,” he said.
Bel Air residents will likely meet again next week to vote on the proposal.
Former mayor Ed Neelly told the crowd he supports the tool to protect the residential area.
“Anything we have to help protect the values of our homes and neighborhood is to our benefit,” he said.