Zoning sets pace for downtown improvement

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 6, 2009

It’s not easy to say no to a new business, a prospective employer — especially with Vicksburg’s economy reflecting sour national conditions. And it’s harder for elected officials to say no to more tax dollars or to risk political support from citizens who get favors. But no is again the right answer for a downtown nightclub. The lay Board of Zoning Appeals correctly rejected a permit application last week and, if an appeal is filed, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen — to keep the faith with taxpayers — must do the same.

The revitalization of the Washington Street “Heart of Vicksburg” area over the past eight years is one of the most exciting developments for the community in decades. We must not forget that area was awash in decay, drug-dealing and violence in the 1990s. It has become a place people here are proud to show to visitors.

The transformation didn’t come without great expense to the public purse, great effort on the part of elected officials, private developers and excellent focus and coordination by organizations such as Vicksburg Main Street.

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The transformation also didn’t come without friction, either. Former Mayor Laurence Leyens, who spearheaded the makeover, didn’t make a lot of friends in the process.

But major portions are done — to the benefit of all — and the area of mixed residential, retailing, dining and, yes, nightlife can keep getting better and better, but not without the same attention to standards.

To that end, Zoning Administrator Dalton McCarty is enforcing objective criteria that set strict requirements that must be met by new businesses. The application of Noel Ross didn’t meet the criteria, specifically the projected balance between food and alcohol sales, and he became the fifth permit-seeker turned away.

Increasingly vibrant downtown entertainment would be a plus for this community. The zoning standards enacted in 2007 are the recipe to get us there, resulting in great venues for adults of all ages and races. But some will have to be told no. That’s not easy, but it’s smart.