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Zoning ordinance still several months away, city predicts

Watkins Nursery employees Landers Grant, left, and Brandon Arnold plant juniper shrubs in front of the Econo Lodge on Pemberton Square Boulevard Saturday. Under the draft of the proposed new zoning ordinance, new businesses in the municipal limits would face stricter standards for landscaping and signs. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[04/02/01] After three years in the working, city officials say that a new zoning ordinance for Vicksburg could still be several months away from completion.

Under the draft of the proposed new ordinance, new businesses in the municipal limits would face stricter standards for landscaping and signs, but city planner Ronnie Bounds said the document still needs some “tweaking.”

“A lot of these (changes) are just editorial,” Bounds said, “to make it read better or for clarification.”

One of the biggest delays in completing the ordinance has been the loss of its principal author, he said. Eric Womack, the city’s former zoning administrator, left Vicksburg in February for a job in Alabama.

As the city’s chief zoning official, Womack was heavily involved in writing the proposal. Bounds said any new zoning official should be involved in the process before a final draft is presented to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for consideration.

“Since he (a new zoning official) will be the one enforcing it, he should be involved in it,” Bounds said. Womack’s replacement has not been named.

Currently, the draft is being considered by the city’s legal department, where some changes are being made because of legal limitations. Other sections are being sent to the state Attorney General’s Office for official opinions on the city’s legal limitations.

“Based on where it is now and the things that have to be done, it will be several months before it goes into effect,” Mayor Robert Walker said.

A public hearing is a required step in the adoption of a new zoning ordinance after the draft is presented to the board. After a public comment section, the mayor and aldermen can amend the regulation.

Once a final draft is prepared, it will be up to the three-member city board to adopt the ordinance. Thirty days later, the new regulations will go into effect.

A citizen advisory committee worked with the city’s planning department for more than a year developing the proposed new zoning ordinance. Highlights of the proposal, which emphasizes aesthetics, include mandatory landscaping, restrictions on the size and placement of signs and the creation of special “corridor districts” along Clay, Mission 66 and Washington streets.

Jo Pratt, a local business owner who served on the advisory committee and is a candidate for North Ward alderman, said she does not believe the city will take up the ordinance before the June 5 general election.

“I really don’t think they’ll deal with it right now,” Pratt said. “They’re too busy politicking.”

Of the city’s three elected officials, two, Walker and North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young, are seeking re-election in elections that begin with party primaries on May 1.

The new ordinance “is almost fading into oblivion,” Pratt said.

South Ward Alderman Sam Habeeb, who is not seeking re-election, said he, too, believes the ordinance will not be considered until after the election.

“I think we’ve had ample time,” Habeeb said. “We should go ahead and have a public hearing.”

Although Walker did not estimate when the city would have the required public hearing, he said he does not believe it will in time for the ordinance to go into effect before the elections.

The proposed ordinance will be the first major revision to the city’s zoning standards since 1971. Some adjustments were made in 1996 to accommodate the areas annexed into the city in 1990.

Bounds said most of the new restrictions will not affect existing businesses, but some sections, such as one that requires all businesses to screen in areas around trash bins, will be mandatory for all commercial industries, old or new.

There are no current zoning requirements outside of the municipal limits in Warren County, except those applying for construction in flood-prone areas.