Hernando residents wishing to have a second road to accommodate what is expected will be an increase in traffic with approval of the final plat of the next phase of St. Ives subdivision suffered a setback Tuesday — but developers insist road stubs exist to neighboring Jefferson to the north which hints at a possible future road.
In a board meeting that saw plenty of drama and lasted for more than two hours Tuesday, aldermen voted to give final plat approval to St. Ives Section B, which was submitted by Lifestyles Homes and developer Brian Hill.
It's an issue that divided a fractious board and involved former Hernando Planning Director Jared Darby, a resident of the neighborhood, who is among residents wishing to nail down a commitment to a second road to alleviate congested traffic in the upscale neighborhood.
It's also an issue that necessitated the temporary hiring of Olive Branch Planning Director B.J. Page. Due to a potential conflict of interest before Darby's departure as planning director, Page had been hired as a special consultant to the board on this one issue.
The next phase of St. Ives consists of 27 additional lots totaling 9.38 acres at the end of St. Ives Drive.
At the crux of the matter is a letter by the state fire marshal which is part of an argument by some on the board that states no additional building permits can be issued if a second ingress/egress is not added in which there are more than 30 homes in a subdivision unless sprinkler systems are installed in the homes built.
The letter, which apparently came to light several months ago, is in addition to adoption by the Hernando city board of 2012 fire code regulations.
It's an issue that drew a raft of attorneys, both acting in official capacity and those who are residents of the subdivision.
Attorney Vance Daly said promises of a second road from the road stub to Jefferson subdivision is just that — a vague promise that may or may not happen.
"As we sit here today, there is no Jefferson Phase 2 happening," Daly said. "It's my position tonight that if (the next phase) of Jefferson never happens, they (St. Ives developers) will not meet that (stipulation). "The whole plan is 166 lots. The fire code says 30 lots without a second road is potentially a danger."
For his part, Darby said he wished to speak on the issue because he feared residents of St. Ives would not be allowed to speak on the issue.
"We've always let people speak," said Ward 3 Alderman Gary Higdon, acting in the capacity of mayor pro tempore, in the absence of Mayor Tom Ferguson, had to cast the final and controversial tie-breaking vote to award final plat approval for Section B of St. Ives.
Upon casting the tie-breaking vote, Higdon explained his reasoning for voting with the majority.
Higdon voted against a motion by Ward 4 Alderman Michael McLendon that called for tabling the final plat approval and additionally asking for an Attorney General's opinion as to whether the Fire Marshal's letter stipulating a second entrance/exit for a subdivision with 30 or more lots unless homes are sprinklered "supersedes" existing planning and zoning law which states that no major changes are permitted to a final plat once it has received preliminary plat approval.
Higdon he didn't think the motion "gets us there" in helping residents obtain a second entrance.
Page argued that two issues were at the forefront of the discussion, which were related, but independent of one another.
Page said that since developers had met all the criteria of the preliminary plat approval there was no reason to reject the application for final plat approval.
Furthermore, Page opined that the city was subjecting itself to a possible lawsuit if it rejected the final plat approval application.
"In 2009, St. Ives subdivision was approved," Page said. "The Planning Commission considered traffic congestion and second entrance but the Board did not include that, so it's off the table. There was a lot of talk about drainage but the issue of drainage is off the table. Basically, all we are doing is checking off the box about what is to be recorded. Basically, this should be a fairly simple approval tonight. Basically, all the major decisions have been made," said Page, referring to requirements for three-inches of "blacktop surface" on streets and a concrete walking trail, among other stipulations. "Rejecting the plan is setting yourself up for a lawsuit."
The building permit process is the proper junction for discussion of a second road, according to Page, not final plat approval, which involves the subdivision of land parcels.
However, McLendon argued the fire marshal's letter was bound to have weight with regard to final plat approval.
"I just want to follow the law — it's the state fire marshal," McLendon said.
"He is not the mayor — not an alderman in the City of Hernando," Hernando City Attorney Kenneth Stockton replied.
Stockton agreed with Page that the proper process to address a second road would be the building permit process, rather than final plat approval.
Ward 5 Alderman Cathy Brooks, who seconded McLendon's motion, questioned the whole reasoning for the city board to hear applications for final plat approval.
"If indeed the preliminary plan is the plan, what purpose is the final?" Brooks asked.
Brooks said that "things had changed" in "the eight-year time period" since St. Ives was first approved. Brooks said she was concerned that the welfare of residents living there was not being protected.
"Is it not our responsibility to the people living there and buying property there to make sure that fire trucks can get in and out properly," added Brooks, referring to the need for a second road in St. Ives.
"That decision was made when the preliminary plan was adopted," Page replied. "I appreciate everyone's conundrum but legally there is not a way to get around it."
"If a new road has to be put in here on the advice of the state fire marshal, do we have to change the final plat?" Mclendon asked.
"No," Page replied, adding the developer will decide whether to put in a second road or sprinkler homes in the additional phase of the subdivision.
"When is the final plat final?" McLendon asked.
"It's in sections," Page replied.
Ward 6 Alderman Jeff Hobbs pointedly asked Darby about the state fire marshal's letter and when it was brought to the city's attention.
"Who issued the permits?" Hobbs asked. "Did you know this letter existed?"
"The City of Hernando," Darby replied.
Page weighed in on the issue, saying the letter from the fire marshal "was no surprise," adding the issue before aldermen on Tuesday night was final plat approval and nothing more.
Resident Brad Sims, a former Hernando Planning Commissioner, said he was concerned about the safety of residents without a second road in the subdivision.
"I don't feel like I know at what point in the process that if I feel my development is in jeopardy I can address it," Sims said. "Several times the question we've asked is if it (subdivision) was safe for emergency vehicles," added Sims.
The upscale subdivision has landscaped medians but streets are narrower than most.
"When this is approved, what assurance is there that someone is going to address my neighborhood?" Sims asked.
Attorney Barry Bridgforth, representing Lifestyle Homes, said he concurred with Page and other officials who argued in favor of approving the final plat for St. Ives.
Ward 2 Alderman Andrew Miller then made a motion, following defeat of McLendon's motion, to give final plat approval along with all Planning Commission recommendations.
His motion was seconded by Ward 1 Alderman E.R. "Sonny" Bryant. Voting for the motion was Alderman At-Large W.I. "Doc" Harris, Miller, Bryant, Higdon and Hobbs. Voting against was McLendon and Brooks.
Following passage of the motion, there was a commotion in the glass atrium/entrance foyer at City Hall, before individuals intervened in the situation and the commotion soon subsided.
Many in the audience had their backs turned when the commotion first ensued and the parties responsible for the commotion could not be independently verified.
Also Tuesday, an additional turn lane on McIngvale Road was discussed with City Engineer Joe Frank Lauderdale saying the turn lane needed further study.
Additionally, aldermen heard estimates for five light poles with two lights each along a very dark portion of Commerce Street.
The matter was tabled pending further estimates in talks with Entergy.
At the outset of the meeting, volunteers Carolyn Young, Randy Martin, Earl Ward and others were recognized for their involvement with the recent successful inaugural Hernando Veterans Parade which drew more than 2,000 people.
"You had outstanding volunteers," Ward 2 Alderman Andrew Miller said.
Next year's parade has been set for Monday, Nov. 12 at 10 a.m.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.