Apartment Complex

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 5, 2009

Proposed apartment complex sets off debate over planning

By Jason C. Mattox

A proposed residential development in east Batesville has sparked a disagreement among members of the Batesville Planning Commission.

During the commission’s monthly meeting Monday night, Code Enforcement Office administrator Pam Comer informed the group that city engineers, representatives of the code office, and city planning consultant Bob Barber of Hernando had met to discuss questions that had been raised by the commission during earlier meetings.

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The property is owned by rookie developer Alvan Kelly and is located behind Lowe’s, where a developer is seeking to construct apartments in the area near Kelly’s proposed Covenant Crossing shopping center/business complex.

Kelly has said he envisions a residential development as a phase-two project to complement the commercial development along Highway 6.

But questions have arisen concerning whether the location of the proposed apartment complex would be in compliance with the city’s “2030” development plan.

The plan calls for “high density residential property” to be located closer to the interstate. But developer Wesley Thompson wants to build behind the Lowe’s, farther away from the interstate.

According to Comer, the commission had instructed city staff to meet with Thompson and, if needed, schedule a special commission meeting.

“We have met for discussion, but we are still reviewing the matter,” Comer said Tuesday morning during an interview.

During the Monday meeting, commission vice-chairman Sonny Simmons, who also serves as CEO of the Panola Partnership, the county’s chamber of commerce, said he believes the issues need to be resolved swiftly.

“Let’s get all the parties involved together so we can give this man an answer,” he said. “We are talking about a possible investment of $20 million.”

Simmons explained that the initial development would have 165 to 250 apartments and at full capacity could reach 500 units.

“Five hundred apartments is a lot,” Comer said.

“Do you think this man, who has done developments in Southaven, would put in more units than he can fill up?” Simmons asked.

Simmons made a motion to have a joint meeting with the city board and planning commission with Kelly and Thompson next week that was approved unanimously.

“The wheels of progress are not moving fast enough, and I think we need to have an answer for them one way or the other,” commission chairman Billy Downs said.

Asked Tuesday about the disagreement between she and Simmons, Comer said her issue was with not following the proper process.

“I think you have a process, and that process doesn’t involve going to individual commission members,” she said. “It needs to be brought to the entire commission at one time so there is not a misunderstanding.

“This is the first project of this magnitude since the new comprehensive plan has been in place, and we have to be careful so we get a quality project,” Comer added. “We want to keep the city progressing and don’t want to do something that might be a setback.”

Simmons said the letter from Barber mentioned adhering closely to the newly adopted comprehensive plan, but he added that it never states it cannot be changed.

“In the new comprehensive plan, the area where Covenant Crossing is has been zoned for commercial development with the areas closer to the interstate zoned for multi-family housing like apartments,” he said.

Simmons said Kelly had met with Thompson, who is prepared to move on the  development of the apartments in a more secluded area behind Lowe’s and develop the commercial areas at a later date.

“Depending on the overall vision for the progression of Batesville, the plan should be flexible,” he said. “From the plans I have seen, this is going to be a fantastic development that would have access to shopping areas in the future.”

Simmons added that the plans for the complex call for walking trails, a swimming pool and tennis courts.

“If you have people looking for apartments, it’s about the additional amenities this complex will have to offer,” he said. “This is something I believe will be really nice, we just have some problems to work through.”

Simmons added that his complaint from the commission meeting was his feeling that it was not handled in the manner they had promised the developer.

“I just want to see the commission work together so we can provide the developer with an answer in the quickest manner,” he said.

The commission instructed Comer to request the joint meeting with the board of aldermen on Jan. 6 or 7.