At a busy session that focused on infrastructure, the DeSoto Board of Supervisors approved safety-related and anti-erosion road projects, and endorsed a parks and greenways master plan for the remainder of Fiscal 2017.

The panel also heard an upbeat Planning Department report on rising building permit and subdivision activity during 2016, at the highest levels since the Great Recession period of 2007-2008 and its aftermath.

On the recommendation of DeSoto Road Manager Andy Swims, the board found that public health and safety required work to repair underground drainage and erosion on Sandbourne West in the Braybourne subdivision. Cost estimate was $5,436.

Approved on a similar finding was removal of a large tree, damaged by lightning, which needs to be removed to prevent it from falling onto West Oak Grove Road, said Swims. Estimated cost was $3,100.

Swims also presented an updated road register and map to the board.

In his parks and greenways plan for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, county Environmental Services and Parks Director Ray Laughter listed comprehensive duties and projects at each of the several community parks overseen by the county, including maintenance tasks.

At Fairview, "we expect to be done by the first of May" on a mile-long walking trail funded by a federal grant, said Laughter. The board approved the recommended bid of $77,349 from Mississippi Driveways of Nesbit for trail work.

The priority for Eudora is a pavilion with restrooms and tennis courts; completion of the Hernando DeSoto River Park overlook and bike trail funded by a Transportation Alternatives Program grant, and to pave the area around the boat dock and overlook; and ongoing maintenance on pond banks and erosion repairs at the future Lewisburg Park at Hawks Crossing.

The long-term plan for Cockrum Park calls for a pavilion; and construction is expected to start this year under a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant on Johnson Creek Greenway improvements. As to the later project, Tracy Huffman of the Waggoner engineering firm made a presentation on Phase 2 budgeting.

Laughter said that with the county's recent takeover of parks, audits of all utilities and past expenses are being conducted to aid budgeting going forward, and small equipment purchases, such as shovels, rakes, brooms and a wheel barrow, have been done and prices for a blower are being reviewed. Meanwhile, the new department is coordinating with the Road Department to use chain saws, weed trimmers "or anything else as needed," said Laughter.

The Road Department will continue to mow and provide "the major maintenance needed" at parks facilities, with a tracking system to tally hours worked and all costs, said Laughter. The same is being done with county Facilities Management as to projects involving parks structures.

"We will have things tracked down to the penny for accurate budget projections in the future," Laughter said. He added that similar to the county's recycling initiatives, parks and greenways will be promoted during Earth Day and other special events, and year-round through the county website desotocountyms.gov and social media.

In another matter involving parks and recreation, Supervisor Mark Gardner of Southaven and Brian Bullard of UrbanARCH architects aired a vision of a proposed major outdoor/indoor tennis facility on Convention and Visitors Bureau acreage off Turman Road near the Landers Center. Garder, a tennis enthusiast, pointed to the health and economic benefits of a tennis complex that would help draw tournaments, "doing for tennis what Snowden Grove does for baseball."

During their 2016 Year in Review presentation, county Planning Director Bennie Hopkins and Deputy Director Austin Cardosi noted that residential building permits across DeSoto rose to 1,253.

This represented a 14.7 percent increase over 2015 activity and the highest yearly tally since 2008, when the oncoming recession held the tally to 621. Permits bottomed at 483 in 2010 and have risen since, but the rate of increase had been about 10 percent annually.

"The market's definitely coming back," said Supervisor Gardner, a Southaven Realtor, of the 2016 total. "The rate of increase is accelerating, so that's another sign things are ramping up."

Subdivision applications came to 75 during 2016, the highest number since 2009, when 38 were recorded, said Hopkins and Cardosi. Also up were conditional use applications, at 22 the highest since 2008; and variance applications at 36, also the highest since 2008.

Among policy changes, there were updates in 2016 to the Parking Ordinance affecting Class 8 truck parking in residential subdivisions, to the Flood Ordinance allowing fill to be removed from the designated floodway, and various zoning text updates.

As to staff, the board last year approved moving Christie Thomas to full-time permit clerk and Daniel Pressgrove as a plans review/inspector. These additions brought the Planning Department up to eight full-time staffers, another signal of a rebounding housing/construction market.

Addressing current applications, the supervisors approved five minor lot final subdivision requests (Scott Williams, Teuton, Haslip, Storey 4, Bolin Whitley) on the Planning consent agenda.

Also OK'd was the Stonewall Commercial application of M&I Properties, seeking to build a convenience store, for final subdivision of final plat at property zoned Commercial (C-1) on the south side of Byhalia Road and west of Red Banks Road.

Since operating a convenience store is a C-1 conditional use, the matter will be up for public comment when the Board of Adjustment hears that request. Supervisor Bill Russell of Walls said he wanted the public to have a say, since he was concerned about the presence of a number of restrictions dating from the 1990s on the plat, such as no gas pumps or food preparation.

Ben Smith, representing M&I, said the character of the area had changed with Interstate development and growth, and he wants removal "of these strange restrictions on the plat. We don't even know how they got there."

Henry Bailey is Contributing Writer and Copy Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He can be contacted at hbailey@desototimestribune.com and at 662-429-6397, Ext. 241.

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