GO Zone nod gives boost to U.S. 80 development|[3/21/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Developers looking to take advantage of the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act for home building, attracting industry and other activities won the county’s stamp of approval Monday over late-breaking voices of opposition.

Passed on a 4-1 vote, the resolution gives the nod to &#8220citizens and businesses conducting development” that would benefit Warren County.

A burst of interest by out-of-state firms wanting to build residential complexes followed President Bush’s signing the post-Katrina measure in December. To spur development, Congress loaded the deal with tax breaks and other incentives.

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Termed a &#8220blanket resolution” by the board because it did not mention a specific development or activity, it stemmed from a request by members of a partnership, DD Development of Sterling, Ill., planning a 75-unit single family housing development off U.S. 80 at the former Pinewood motel property.

A site recruiter and spokesman for the developer said the board’s endorsement of the GO Zone’s features will help the group’s chances in applying for low-income housing tax credits toward the project’s financing.

The measure was not without vocal opposition from the residents of Pear Orchard subdivision, about a mile from the property, and a few from along U.S. 80, some of whom addressed supervisors and spoke publicly about the proposed development for the first time.

Pear Orchard resident Alainna O’Bannon, along with four residents from along U.S. 80, presented to the board a petition opposing the project, said to contain the signatures of about 100 people.

The five were driven to gather the signatures from printed reports about the development, O’Bannon said.

Along with concerns over decreased property values and increased crime, similar to those voiced by residents of neighborhoods along U.S. 61 South last month concerning low-income housing proposals, the residents also brought up fears of increased traffic.

&#8220Highway 80 is nothing but a NASCAR track. It would add to the traffic that’s already there,” said Wallace Goza, adding he has been a resident of the area for more than 50 years.

They also voiced displeasure about a lack of further notice of a public hearing beyond two signs placed near the property, one that faced the highway and one that did not.

The development, to be called Thornton Hill residential subdivision, calls for 75 single-family houses sized at 1,400 square feet and each with a two-car garage. Sixty of them would be three-bedroom homes. Each would be built at a cost of $161,000 and would comply with the 2003 International Building Code standards.

The homes would rent for between $350 and $500 per month, with about 40 of the houses slated to be rent-assisted with qualifying residents receiving up to $50, depending on their income. That is made possible through applications through the Mississippi Home Corporation.

Warren is among 49 of Mississippi’s 82 counties included in the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act of 2005 for individual or public assistance. Thirty-one parishes in Louisiana and 11 counties in western Alabama are also part of the zone. Almost all counties have seen a spurt of interest in the packaged developments. Warren has had three and Lowndes has had nine.

In casting the dissenting vote, District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders said Warren County suffered &#8220little or no long-term damage” from Hurricane Katrina. Further, Flanders said, even though the U.S. 80 developers had a Monday afternoon deadline to submit their specific application, all developers can apply for such tax credits through 2008 as part of the federal GO Zone legislation.

&#8220The clock may be ticking on this development’s application, but it’s not ticking that loudly,” Flanders said.

Later in the meeting, John McChurch, a partner of DD Development, said further information sessions with area residents are likely.

In other business, the board: