Controversy continues over Costco construction

Once the foundation is poured, a Costco Wholesale can typically be open for business within four months.

However, two years after developers announced plans to bring the wholesaler to Highland Colony Parkway, the battle over the store’s future continues.

Supporters say the store will give residents more options for shopping, as well as increase sales tax and property tax revenues for the city.

Opponents aren’t opposed to bringing a Costco to Ridgeland, but don’t want it on Highland Colony.

The store would be located on the parkway south of the Old Agency Road roundabout, near Christ Life Church of the Highlands.

Opponents are worried, among other things, about the impact the store would have on traffic and on the historic Old Agency and Natchez Trace corridors located nearby.

Developers and Costco officials, though, argued that having the store along the parkway would actually increase property values, and that the company would work to alleviate any potential traffic concerns.

The city also believes traffic will not be a problem, once the Lake Harbour Drive extension is complete. The project will provide another exit/entry point to the parkway from the interstate.

A handful of residents filed suit against the city in the Madison County Circuit Court, after the Ridgeland mayor and board of aldermen amended the property’s zoning classification.

The case was appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court in May. Ridgeland asked the high court to expedite the case in July, but the request was denied.

The first brief was filed on August 21.

Meanwhile, dirt work on the Costco site has been delayed because of the unusually wet weather, according to Ward One Alderman Ken Heard.

Site preparation work includes removing the area’s clay and hauling in new dirt for the construction of the store, as well as building a retention pond to slow runoff into a nearby creek. The pond was required by the

See Costco, Page 12A

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Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Heard said.

“All that’s been done now is mostly bringing in rip rap. Little dirt has been taken out,” he said.

The project is being constructed by Andrew Mattiace and H.C. Bailey. The Costco will be part of the third phase of the Renaissance at Colony Park shopping center.

The center will be constructed in two phases, with the first being the Costco and an accompanying gas station. The entire development will include nearly 300,000 square feet of indoor commercial space and more than 1,600 parking spaces, briefings state.

 

At the heart of the matter is Ridgeland’s efforts to amend its zoning ordinance, clearing the way for the development.

The mayor and board approved amending the city’s C-2 commercial zoning classification in 2015, and again in 2016. Opponents of the rezoning say the changes were made to allow Costco to have a remote gas station on the site, something not previously allowed on C-2 sites.

Ridgeland officials have claimed from the beginning that the decision was made to give the city “another tool” in its zoning tool box.

Court records appear to back up opponents’ claims that the changes were specifically made for the Costco.

In an April 23, 2015 e-mail attorney Mark Davis told Director of Community Development Alan Hart that “the purchase and sale agreement will require that the seller make representations about the zoning status of the property, including the fact that the property can be used for a vehicle fueling facility.

Davis was representing Renaissance developer Andrew Mattiace at the time. It was unknown if he was still representing Mattiace today.

In the e-mail. Davis refers to the “Santa” project, which was later revealed to be the Costco.

In his response to Davis, Hart said he was meeting with Andrew, so he could “offer me some specific parameters of the project, which will assist me in shaping the ‘draft’ ordinance amendment.”

Hart also included a schedule of how quickly the ordinance could be passed.

Court filings include e-mails from 2014 and 2015. Ridgeland Citizens for Responsible Development filed a suit against the city in 2015 and again the following year.

In a November 12, 2014 e-mail, Hart tells a woman named Julie, that the city could “appropriately amend the language of the zoning ordinance to accommodate the accessory detached fuel facility,” and that the amendments to the zoning ordinance could be completed “in less than 60 days.”

“There is no doubt that the Costco amendments were ‘uniquely’ designed to meet Mattiace’s and Costco’s needs and were adopted in direct response,” according to opponents’ arguments.

 

The case before the Supreme Court continues to argue the merits of the zoning amendments.

Among changes to the C-2 ordinance, was adding a new definition of service station, as well as large master planned commercial development (LMPCD). LMPCDs, according to the ordinance, have at least one building with 100,000 square feet or more of heated/cooled retail space and are located on a minimum of 15 acres.

Permitted uses in LMPCD include service stations, bank branches, drive-thru ATMs, fast food, casual restaurants, pharmacies with a drive-thru, and others. 

William Drinkwater, an attorney for the opposition, argues that amendments could be classified as spot zoning, which is a term “used to describe a zoning ordinance which is amended to ‘reclassify one or more tracts or lots for a use prohibited by the original zoning ordinance.”

He cites the case involving the Fairview Inn in Jackson. In 1993, the Fairview was granted a permit to operate a bed and breakfast on Fairview Street, a residential neighborhood in Belhaven. However, the establishment was not granted permission “to advertise itself as a restaurant open to the general public as it desired,” he write. Ultimately, the city amended its zoning ordinance to create a new zoning classification for the bed and breakfast, and to allow businesses that fell under that classification to operate on R-2 property, according to court documents. The Fairview is located on R-2 residential property.

The city argued that the amendments were text amendments to an existing zoning classification and therefore did not constitute rezoning, something the high court rejected, Drinkwater wrote.

The court noted that the “only business affected by the amendments was the Fairview Inn … There can be no dispute that the amendment was designed to favor the inn, and such preferential treatment constitutes illegal spot zoning.”

Ridgeland argues that the case is not spot zoning, because the amendments affect all C-2 zoning spots across the city. Attorneys for the municipality further argue that local governments have “broad authority to enact and amend (their) zoning ordinance(s).”

Zoning aside, supporters of the Costco have argued that Highland Colony is a commercial corridor, and that some development will eventually come to the site, even if Costco is denied.

Jeff Brotman, the late chairman of Costco, told the Sun that the parkway site “is a great retail site, another company will jump on it and that retailer will be a lot less exciting and apropos of the neighborhood than Costco.” 

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