Board approves Church Road access

By NIKKI ROWELL,

After lenghty discussions spanning multiple meetings, the Madison County board of supervisors voted unanimously to allow another access point to Church Road from a section of property zoned for commercial use.

The property in question, which is being developed by Ron Hutchinson, John Harreld and Annette Harreld, has a bypass road that connects to Calhoun Station Parkway.

The supervisors approved an extension to the bypass to connect to Church Road. The extension will be about 2,000 feet long.

Originally zoned for residential use, the property was rezoned to C2 in 2015. However, for the property to be rezoned commercial, approximately 22 conditions were set in place to ensure that the property’s use would fit the area.

The supervisors’ vote removed one of those conditions which required the bypass road on the property to end in a cul-de-sac and not connect to Church Road.

The property owners claim that they would be unable to attract high-end businesses to develop in that area if the only access point to those businesses ended in a cul-de-sac.

They also requested the board lift the requirement of a three-foot berm on the northern part of the property. The supervisors did not approve this request.

Board attorney Katie Snell told the supervisors at the meeting on July 15 that in order to make a change to an area’s zoning, there either must be a mistake in the original zoning plan or a change of character in the area to such an extent to justify reclassification and there has to be a public need for the change.

“What we’re looking at here, you look at the reasons behind the restrictions. Has there been a change to justify removal of those restrictions?” Snell said. “You are looking for not just a change, but a substantial change.”

She added that these things must be shown with clear and convincing evidence.

The supervisors heard from concerned residents’ opposition to another access point to Church Road and from Neel-Schaffer engineers before making their decision to allow the road extension.

Neel-Schaffer engineers recently conducted a traffic study based on the developer’s proposed land uses, which included 625,000 square feet of retail and commercial development and 225,000 square feet of office space.

Between the added retail and commercial development and office space, Church Road could see an additional 23,216 trips by travelers daily.

Based on square footages we were provided, there would eventually be a need for “some kind of traffic control” on Church Road, such as a traffic signal or roundabout.

However, once businesses have been identified for that site, there would need to be an additional traffic study and site plan process to determine the need for traffic control.

“Until knowing what the development will be, right now there’s no need,” Central Mississippi Manager and Senior Vice President of Neel-Schaffer Keith O’Keefe said. “Traffic is increasing in that area substantially.”

“In general, you’re seeing a 6 percent per year growth in Gluckstadt, which is phenomenal. Particularly along Stribling Road extension and Church Road, you’re seeing about 8 percent growth,” he added. “It is growing. No question about it.”

O’Keefe said further improvements to the road would be necessary in that area in the future regardless, simply based on growth.

At that time, District Two Supervisor Trey Baxter opened the floor for concerned citizens to voice their comments and concerns.

Walter and Jay McKay, Gluckstadt residents, cited traffic and safety as their main concerns for keeping the restrictions in place. “We live out there. We know what the traffic is like,” Walter McKay said. “It might work better now, but the traffic is increasing. Every school year, there are more cars coming through there.”Germantown High School is located off Church Road, across from the property in question.

The school’s enrollment numbers continue to climb. Approximately 1,084 students were enrolled in grades nine through 12 for the 2016-17 school year.

Approximately 1,200 students were enrolled at the high school for the 2018-19 school year. Of those students, many drive themselves to and from the Germantown campus during the school year.

Jay McKay said area residents who travel on Church Road daily are already seeing increased drive times.  “We, the community, did not want to see additional traffic dumped onto Church Road,” Walter said.

Following the discussion, Baxter made a motion finding that there has been substantial change in the character of that area, citing growth and the fact that the road has been widened. The board also identified public need, as patrons would need access to enter and exit the development when it is complete.

However, Baxter’s motion allowed for the removal of the restriction as requested, contingent on the property owners taking financial responsibility for an additional traffic study to determine whether a traffic control device will be needed and cover the cost of the device if it is needed.

The board voted unanimously to approve the motion.

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