Plans to rezone 350-acre Madison Co. property drawing criticism from residents

The Bozeman Family Limited Partnership is seeking to rezone land between Bozeman Road and I-55...
The Bozeman Family Limited Partnership is seeking to rezone land between Bozeman Road and I-55 from special use to commercial. It will be opened for development when the parkway is extended.(WLBT)
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 4:19 PM CDT
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MADISON CO., Miss. (WLBT) - The future of a roughly 350-acre swath of land in Madison County is still up in the air after the board of supervisors failed to approve a rezoning request at Monday’s meeting.

Supervisors voted to continue the matter until its first board meeting in June.

“I believe the city controls the sewer and they’ve filed annexation papers, so they should be involved in the rezoning,” District 2 Supervisor Trey Baxter said.

Meanwhile, new questions are being raised as to whether county officials made a deal with landowners to grant the rezoning in exchange for right-of-way for the Reunion Parkway project.

At the heart of the matter is roughly 350 acres of land owned by the Minnie J. Bozeman Family Limited Partnership.

Owners are seeking to rezone the site from a special use district to C-2 commercial, with plans to build a major shopping center there.

Steve Smith, an attorney speaking on behalf of the Bozeman Family, argued the property should be rezoned to bring it in line with the county’s land use plan.

He points to the changing character of the area, saying since 2017, $70 million in new construction permits had been issued in the county, including 60 new business permits since 2021.

“There are currently 1,000 to 1,200 residential lots under development and are ready for construction. I don’t think I need to tell this board that residential development drives commercial development.”

The property is located between Bozeman Road and I-55 and will eventually be opened up by the Reunion Parkway extension. The acreage will then be connected to the interstate by the Reunion interchange.

The family is seeking to rezone approximately 350 acres from SU-1 to commercial.
The family is seeking to rezone approximately 350 acres from SU-1 to commercial.(Madison County Board of Supervisors)

However, some residents spoke out against the request, saying it will have a negative impact on their property values and that the character of the area surrounding the acreage has not changed.

“When I drive up and down Bozeman, [I] see churches and a school. I don’t see big box retailers. I don’t see major shopping centers,” Jane Cory, of 119 Esplanade Ct., said Monday. “Let’s look at Colony Crossing - that can’t keep tenants. Let’s look at Germantown Village above us - that is going in and is going to be built out in 2024.”

“I’m very concerned as a homeowner about my property value. The one thing about Madison County is it does have high property [values] because it has a nice aesthetic and [is a] nice place to live.”

Cherry Hill Drive resident Chris Hinkle told the board once the property is rezoned, it would open it up to things like gas stations, tattoo parlors and other businesses.

“You want to increase my property values, build a police substation, build a church, build a school. You can put a medical complex there that doesn’t detract from the neighborhood and that’ll increase my property values,” he said. “The citizens demand accountability on this. Just because it was planned for C-2 back in 2019 doesn’t mean it’s a good idea right now.”

Hinkle, along with Smith, referenced the county’s comprehensive plan, which designated the Bozeman property C-2 commercial. The plan was last updated in 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uses permitted in C-2 zoning include supermarkets, hotels and motels, bowling alleys, skating rinks, funeral homes, restaurants, gas stations, new vehicle car lots, yard and garden centers, and indoor vehicle service centers.

Conditional uses for C-2 include public and quasi-public facilities, heavy equipment sales, big box retailers, building materials sales, garage and body shops, fireworks stands, used car lots, storage units and billboards.

The county’s Planning and Zoning Board approved the rezoning petition in February, clearing its way for a vote by the board of supervisors.

That decision was appealed by the city of Madison and a public hearing was set for April. However, the hearing was postponed until May at the behest of the city and Bozeman family.

In April, Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler said the city was interested in the rezoning effort, at least in part, because the acreage is located within Madison’s path of growth.

The city’s board of aldermen approved an ordinance to annex the property at its May 2 meeting. The agenda did not show the area the city hopes to take in.

County Zoning Administrator Scott Weeks told supervisors on Monday leaders in the city of nearly 28,000 wanted another continuation.

“There was a request from the city on Friday for a continuance of this matter. That was not agreed to by the petitioner. So, my advice to the counsel for the city of Madison was... this is just like a court hearing. You show up at the appropriate time and argue your reason for continuance or be prepared to proceed based on the ruling of the court. In this matter, it would really be the board of supervisors.”

Erin Saltaformaggio, an attorney with the Bradley Arant law firm, spoke on behalf of the city. She said the question for supervisors was whether the character of the neighborhood had changed and that the rezoning was in the public need.

“To meet that standard under Mississippi law, you can’t just fall back and look at the 2019 master plan,” she said. “You can’t just say it was in the master plan to be C-2, therefore the rezoning is appropriate. That’s not how it works. Instead, Mississippi law requires... an applicant seeking to rezone [to] show by clear and convincing evidence that change has actually occurred.”

Saltaformaggio said the city also opposes the rezoning because they say it violates rules against contract zoning.

“Mississippi law does not permit a governing body to bargain away its zoning power by committing to the developers’ preferred zoning changes,” she said. “It has to engage in the public process required by the zoning ordinances and state law.”

She was referring to an alleged agreement between the county to obtain right-of-way for the Reunion Parkway interchange in exchange for the rezoning.

The interchange would provide a new east-west connector over I-55 and a new entry and exit point to the interstate between Gluckstadt and Madison.

Saltaformaggio included in a letter to the board an exhibit from the February Planning and Zoning meeting where Board of Supervisors Attorney Mike Espy spelled out an agreement with Richard Skinner, a representative for the Bozeman family.

“So, he donated half of the land to Madison County. In good faith, Madison County wrote him a check for the remaining 50 percent value of [the] land,” Espy said. “And then, the day that we cut the ribbon on the ramps, he is going to write us a check back for what we gave him.”

The roughly 35 acres deeded over was valued at $1.4 million. The partnership received a check for $965,000, according to a copy of a memorandum of understanding between the county and Skinner.

The agreement does not mention the county would rezone the land in exchange for the right-of-way.

However, Espy told the planning board in February that “we would do our best to rezone this land so we could begin planning for commercial projects – shopping center, office buildings, whatever.”

“Also, in order to help him do that, we told him, and my board understands, we made available to his engineers the contours – where the road is going to be built, the elevations, the turns, so he can plan his curb cutouts,” he continued. “So, if it’s going to be a shopping center, he knows where the curb cutouts are going to be.”

Espy said he had the backing of the board of supervisors.

Smith denied the claims, saying there was a “misrepresentation” made in the city’s presentation. “I’ve talked to Richard Skinner. There’s never been one word, not one sentence, about ‘you give us this zoning and we’ll give you this right-of-way,’” he said.

Skinner also said there was no “deal” following a previous WLBT report. “That can be no further from the truth. There is and never was a ‘deal,’' he wrote in an email. “Our family partnership simply donated a major part of the ROW as a landowner contribution to the overall project.”

“We, as landowners, are simply exercising our right to rezone our property,” he continued. “We are only following the Madison County land use plan adopted in 2019.”

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