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Supervisors looking at regulating growth

Officials and the few residents in attendance for a Monday public hearing agreed that the comprehensive plan Lafayette County adopted in 2008 needs to be reviewed and revised by a professional consultant in order to control the explosive growth that has taken place in the last decade.

What those changes will eventually encompass should be determined through a series of public hearings and resident involvement in the next several months.

Getting input from the community was the reason the Board of Supervisors held an initial public hearing to “get the ball rolling,” said board president Jeff Busby.

“And hopefully we’ll have twice as many people from the community at the next public hearing,” Busby added.

Less than two dozen residents attended the public hearing in the chambers at the Chancery Building, but those who spoke thanked the board for being proactive in an attempt to control the growth in the fastest-growing county in Mississippi.

Monica Hearn, a resident of Southpoint subdivision who “blundered down here from Memphis” years ago, was not aware until recently the county did not have any type of zoning or land-use regulations.

“I applaud your efforts,” said Hearn, who added the issue is a complicated one.

“There are different needs for a subdivision like mine than someone who lives on a farm. It’s a tricky thing.”

Ruth Johnson, who owns a farm with free-range chickens, and grows turnips and blueberries for the community brought up a concern for her. She described illegal rental properties on County Road 129 with loud music and raw sewage.

“My chickens won’t produce eggs if the music gets too loud,” said Johnson, who volunteered to assist county officials in creating regulations to prevent such a nuisance.

“You tell me what to do and I’ll get busy,” she said.

Edge of development

A good portion of the growth the county has experienced has been on the outskirts of the Oxford city limits. One of those residents is Matthew Cox, who lives in a subdivision “about 50 yards outside the city limits.”

“I don’t want to be in your shoes,” said the landscape architect who said he has the benefit of city utilities but not fire and police protection. One of his main concerns is once Oxford’s Vision 2037 plan is implemented and the “city clamps down” the effect it will have on developers who “don’t want to play by the city’s rules” and decide to take their development into the county where the regulations are less stringent. He also suggested supervisors take their message to the people in areas like Paris, Taylor, Tula, Harmontown and other communities with town hall meetings.

Jeff Williams, a developer with Williams Engineering, suggested county officials figure out how to manage growth alongside Oxford rather than with Oxford. He also said regulations need to be a protection device for residents.

“There’s a big plan coming from Oxford and part of that is annexation,” Williams said.

In agreement

Supervisors Robert Blackmon, Chad McLarty and Mike Roberts each indicated the comprehensive plan needs to be updated and done by a professional.

“I’ve had everything from hog farms to shooting ranges,” Blackmon said. “Nobody wants to be told what to do. We can’t stop it (growth) but we can make them do it right.”

“People live in the county for a reason,” McLarty said. “But at the same time, people who live near the municipality have asked for some type of protection.”

Busby noted that officials can’t just regulate portions of the county, but law dictates the entire county must be regulated. The board has asked for RFP’s (request for proposals) from consultants until Dec. 1. Officials hope to have someone on board to help with the comprehensive plan and schedule another public hearing later in December.

“We are very much in the preliminary stages,” Busby said. “Twenty years ago, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. With so much growth in this county today, we have to do something. It has come to that point. We are going to listen to the residents and try to implement the best plan we can for this county.”