May 27, 2001
The Meridian Planning Commission last week put into perspective what many growth proponents have privately feared: The commission isn't interested in helping facilitate residential development and the higher quality of life it creates over the long term.
The commission, a group of volunteers serving at the pleasure of the mayor and city council, rejected on a 4-to-1 vote (four other members failed to attend the meeting) an incentives package that might have attracted new residential construction inside the city limits. And, in so doing, it rebuffed a proposal that might at least help Meridian grow.
As presented by the city's Community Development Department after more than a year of consultation with local builders and developers, the proposal would have:
taxed land that is currently undeveloped at current rates until houses are built and a certificate of occupancy issued. At the present time, a developer beginning a new subdivision inside the city on undeveloped property is required to pay higher property taxes; and,
set up a special fund through which the city would pay for water and sewer infrastructure in new subdivisions. This would be similar to what the city already does in major commercial and industrial projects.
Such partnerships are not uncommon in Mississippi cities which encourage residential development. Meridian should among them.
Jemison's reasoning is correct. Land outside the city is easier to develop. It costs less. Developers have long complained that a complex series of administrative obstacles reduce their enthusiasm and increase their costs of building inside the city.
Six weeks ago, the Grow Meridian Team appointed by Mayor John Robert Smith came forward with a number of recommendations. One included asking the Community Development Department to revamp city ordinances to make it easier for developers to build inside the city. Unfortunately, the planning commission's action guarantees that won't happen any time soon.
Meridian doesn't lack developable land. It's just that too many people who hold positions of influence wear blinders they lack an appreciation for the forces that drive growth in a free-market economy. The real bottom line is that the Meridian Planning Commission needs some fresh faces, people willing to at least consider innovation, change and cooperation as important elements in economic development and this city's future.