Ergon wins appeal on parking lot landscaping

Published 11:30 am Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ergon Refining can build the parking lot for its new office complex without landscaping, the Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen said Monday.

The board voted 3-0 to overturn a Planning Commission recommendation to deny the refinery’s request for a variance from the city’s building code requiring parking lots in the city to be landscaped.

The commission, meeting as the Board of Zoning Appeals, met May 7 and split 3-3 on Ergon’s request for the variance. The split vote shot the request down, forcing the appeal.

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“I know it’s important to maintain the integrity of any ordinance that’s given us, (but) at the same time, they’re only given to give us a guideline. We have to take some things on a case-by-case basis,” South Ward Alderman Willis Thompson said before making the motion granting the variance.

The city building ordinance concerning parking lots requires trees to be included in the landscape plans and planted in parking islands, which under the code are put at the end of the parking rows. The parking islands must be at least eight feet wide and have a curb at least six inches high. They are designed to protect cars at the end of the parking rows and serve as planters for the trees.

Ergon, which is building a new administration building and relocating several labs to a site outside the refinery to comply to with Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulations, sought the variance, claiming it would be difficult to keep the parking area landscaped.

One reason, company officials said, was the soil in the area, which was taken from the river and used during the port’s construction as fill to make a base for the industries and roads in the Port of Vicksburg. The soil, they said, would make it difficult to grow and properly maintain the plants.

Monday, Jeff Cochran, Ergon engineering manager, said landscaping the parking lot would cause Ergon to lose nine parking spaces, from 143 without landscaping, to 134 with the trees.

“The area where we’re building is kind of blocked in by our rail traffic and our truck traffic, so we have a limited amount of area, and we’re trying to maximize parking,” he said.

Based on the area of property, he said, the ordinance requires at least 120 parking spaces, adding, “we have that, but we’re also trying to account for about 20 to 25 company vehicles that are going to take up parking space, because we are now located away from our main facility. So we’re really limited on how much parking we can have.”

During the year, he said, the refinery has programs and projects that will increase the number of cars parking on the lot.

“We feel like we’re going to be above capacity at this facility, and we tore down an existing facility to build this one,” he said. The land around the new building will be landscaped, he said.

“Under the ordinance, because of the width of each parking space, that’s going to limit you from the very beginning, because of the number of spaces that you’ll be getting in, compared with the older ordinance,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said.

“I don’t think this parking lot ordinance is useful for the industrial areas, said Wayne Mansfield, executive director of the Warren County Port Commission, who was city planning director when the parking ordinance was approved in 2006 under the Laurence Leyens administration.

“Within the city limits, with the exception of (U.S.) 61 South, the only industrial area we have is the port,” he said. “It doesn’t make good sense to enforce the ordinance. The intent and purpose of the ordinance was to try and beautify the corridors and entrance corridors into town — business areas that people tend to gather at, because landscaping, lighting, makes people feel safe and they want to shop.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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