City board delays vote on urban renewal project|[12/05/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 5, 2006

A go-ahead vote by Vicksburg officials on an urban renewal project will be taken after the appeal period on a bond issue has expired, even though there’s no direct link between the two.

People who think their names were erroneously invalidated during the official canvass of a petition calling for a vote on the bond have until 5 p.m. Monday to protest.

&#8220I want to keep politics out of it,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said of the decision to delay the vote.

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The $16.9 million bond issue contains $570,000 to be spent on drainage, lighting and street improvements in the Oak Street Corridor, focus of the urban renewal effort. The rest of the money is for completely unrelated work.

The two proposals had been linked, however, by language on the petition itself and, according to a few residents of the urban-renewal area who signed it, by those circulating it.

The petition was submitted at City Hall on Nov. 3 and requested a referendum on the issue. The petition was found Friday to have had 582 fewer than the 1,500 valid signatures it needed to succeed. The petition had 2,120 entries but 1,202 were deemed invalid, City Clerk Walter Osborne said.

The bond issue is to fund $7.8 million for repaving and related street, curb, gutter and sidewalk work citywide; $5 million to replace the Washington Street rail overpass at Clark Street; and $4.1 million on softball fields, the first phase of a planned recreation complex to be built off Fisher Ferry Road in southern Vicksburg.

The urban-renewal proposal is to invoke a state law to encourage development or redevelopment of an area that the city has determined to be slum and blight. The defined area, south of the downtown retail area along the Yazoo Canal and Mississippi River includes 540 homes and businesses, from the east side of Washington Street west to the riverbank.

The urban-renewal law allows cities to buy private property, using eminent domain power if necessary, and resell it to developers. City officials have said their plan designates two properties for such action, a car-detailing business at Washington and Belmont streets and a business at 3200 Oak St.

However, there has been widespread speculation that lower-income residents would be displaced, which City Hall denies.

The area has widely mixed uses and contains some of the city’s most posh antebellum mansions as well as frame homes rotting and falling in on themselves.

Another point of contention is that no list of locations to spend the $7.8 million earmarked for street and related improvements has been released.

Both the bond issue and the urban-renewal project would be the second in as many terms for the city board, both with Leyens as mayor.

The petition was submitted by representatives of the NAACP, who said higher taxes including a &#8220view tax” were in the offing. &#8220The administration is also looking at an additional, view tax for some homes and businesses in the urban-renewal area with a clear view of the river,” was reported in a letter to the editor.

Leyens said during Monday’s meeting he’s heard talk of such a tax and that none exists, but suggested that the board review its restrictions on building height and emphasize to residents the value of views from the area that slopes toward the river.

City Planner Wayne Mansfield said that in most cases a 35-foot height limit on buildings and homes applies. &#8220The more the public gets involved with the concept of the value of a view, the fewer exceptions” to such restrictions will be made, Leyens said.