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Firms pitch for possible county plan

The process of possibly updating the 2008 county comprehensive plan continued Wednesday afternoon as a committee of county officials interviewed three firms who have presented proposals to do the work.

The interview committee, comprised of Lafayette County Planning Commission chairman TJ Ray, Chancery Clerk Sherry Wall, county attorney David O’Donnell, County Engineer Larry Britt, supervisors Jeff Busby and Chad McLarty and incoming supervisors David Rikard and Kevin Frye, heard from two local firms and a third firm that did the original comprehensive plan seven years ago.

Following the interview process, the committee is expected to make a decision on which firm — if any — to recommend to the county board of supervisors. That will likely take place after the first of the year when Rikard and Frye are sworn into office.

The issue of zoning was a common theme and question throughout each nearly hour-long interview. The firms were asked about their experience with creating zoning regulations from scratch, as well as experience with land use regulations. They were also asked about their timeline for finishing the plan.

A2H & Clarion

Oxford-based A2H, PLLC, has partnered with Clarion Associates out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to present a proposal at a cost of $97,000. Founder and president Mark Askew introduced his team, lead by project manager Andy Reynolds and Clarion planner Roger Walden, who said the $97,000 stops short of writing an ordinance for the county when asked by O’Donnell who inquired about the breakdown and cost. Walden said it was “hard to price right now” about the additional cost for writing up land use regulations without “knowing what the end product is going to look like.”

The actual cost of “writing of an ordinance would be negotiated,” Walden said.

Walden suggested the county could develop zoning districts that would have a lot of standards around Oxford and then other zones that would have very few standards “in more rural outlying parts of the county.”

A2H and Clarion could have the comprehensive plan project complete by September 2016 with zoning and land use regulations in place by mid-2017. Ray, who deals with subdivision regulations on a regular basis, would like to see that timeline moved up.

“By mid-2017, we’ll be hurting a lot worse by the outgrowth coming from the city,” Ray said. “What we want is not that difficult.”

McLarty had concerns about the more than 200 other ongoing projects A2H and Clarion had going on and how much attention would be devoted to the comprehensive plan.

Askew assured him, “We never miss a deadline, ever.”

Slaughter & Associates

Mike Slaughter, who is also located in Oxford and has done such projects all over Mississippi, also spoke in depth about zoning in his presentation from Slaughter & Associates.

“I, personally as a planner, believe Lafayette County needs zoning,” Slaughter said. “Zoning protects and enhances property values. And zoning is not about what I can or cannot do with my property, but about what my neighbor can or cannot do with their property.”

He said he would develop a comprehensive plan in accordance to zoning if the county were to adopt such regulations or zoning ordinance. He suggested developing a future land use map and a large part of the 600 square miles of the county would be zoned agriculture. There would be different levels of zoning.

“You would have a good foundation for zoning if the county decided to get into that,” Slaughter said.

He said a zoning ordinance could be complete within three to six months if the county adopted a comprehensive plan within a nine-month timeframe.

He said his fee on top of the $60,000 for the comprehensive plan would not exceed $20,000.

But he also indicated that he has been hired by the city for their annexation study and could be called as an expert witness on behalf of the city if the county fought the annexation in court. The county has not indicated if there could be a court fight over property west of the city limits. It would create a conflict of interest.

“And if that’s the case, I’m not the guy you need to hire,” Slaughter said.

Central Mississippi Planning

Williams Peacock with the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, based in Jackson was the final firm to make a presentation.

Peacock was the planner on the original comprehensive plan in 2008.

He said the comprehensive plan would cover expected growth into 2040 and would include several land use elements. The proposal fee is $80,000 for the comprehensive plan with an additional $20,000 for a zoning ordinance. He recommends hybrid codes and “tailor the ordinance to an area.”

“Working with a blank slate may be better than trying to build on something that is already there,” Peacock said in regard to creating zoning from scratch.

Like the other firms, he said public input is vital to the comprehensive plan. All three said public hearings would be held, as well as online polling through websites to gather information from the public.

Peacock said he could have the comprehensive plan complete in 12-18 months and the zoning ordinance in six to 10 months.

Busby reiterated that the interviews were meant to gather information on whether updating the current comprehensive plan is necessary or if a new plan should be created.

“We may go through this process and decide we don’t need to update the plan,” Busby said. “We really don’t know yet.”