City votes to incorporate remaining airport land

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Albeit a quiet one, another volley has been fired in a battle to annex city of Jackson-owned property around the Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.

Last week, the Jackson City Council approved an ordinance incorporating hundreds of acres of land around the airport, about a year after the cities of Pearl and Flowood filed petitions to annex it.

The ordinance was introduced by Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and the city’s legal department at the August 6 meeting.

The measure was approved unanimously, with no debate. The vote took a matter of seconds. Typically, an ordinance is introduced and placed into a council committee for further discussion. However, the council suspended rules so the item could be voted on immediately. Like the ordinance, the motion to suspend rules also was approved with full council support.

Council President Virgi Lindsay, Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote and Ward Two Councilman Melvin Priester declined to comment. Officials with the Lumumba administration also wouldn’t comment, saying the matter was in litigation.

Ward Four Councilman De’Keither Stamps, who was absent from the meeting, said the ordinance was “pretty cut and dried.”

He said the measure was not passed in response to annexation attempts by Flowood and Pearl, nor was it in response to the state’s efforts to take over the airport. Rather, it was on the city’s long-term “to-do list.”

“That was way before the airport (takeover stuff),” he said, saying he campaigned on annexing city-owned property in the unincorporated area when he first ran for office in 2013.

Incorporation papers now must be filed in chancery court. It was not known if the petition would be filed in the Hinds County or Rankin County chancery court. Flowood and Pearl filed their annexation petitions in Rankin County last summer.

The land in question surrounds the Jackson-Evers airport which sits on approximately 3,700 acres of land in Rankin County. The property is bordered by Lakeland Drive to the north and Airport Road to the east. To the west, city-owned property is located on both sides of the recently completed East Metro Parkway. All 3,700 acres are owned either by the city of Jackson or the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority (JMAA), a Jackson city agency.

Of the acreage, 2,361 acres are located within the Jackson city limits (Most of that includes the Jackson-Evers operation area.); 1,028 acres are located in the unincorporated part of the county; 247 acres are located in Flowood; and 171 are located in Pearl, according to a map provided by the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District (CMPDD), the area’s metropolitan planning organization.

CMPDD would not comment on the annexation or incorporation efforts.

According to court documents, Flowood is seeking to take in property west of Jackson-Evers along Airport Road and northwest of the airport along the East Metro corridor. Pearl is seeking to take control of property southwest of the airport along East Metro and Old Brandon Road.

In both cases, the property in question is adjacent to the towns’ corporate boundaries.

Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads told the Sun last fall that his city would like more control over zoning in the unincorporated areas.

In December, JMAA, which operates the airport on behalf of Jackson, passed a resolution in opposition of the measure.

That same month, Jackson city officials voiced their opposition, with the council hiring three law firms to represent the city’s interests in the case. Firms include Carroll Warren & Parker PLLC, Stamps and Stamps, and Danks Miller & Cory.

At the time, Foote said the decision to annex the property was a “tax grab” by the cities, so Flowood and Pearl could get any revenue off of future developments there.

“They’re anticipating this before any development comes in,” he said.

The property has the potential to be some of the most valuable commercial acreage in the state, largely for its perceived industrial and aviation-related uses.

In 2017, construction wrapped up on the East Metro Parkway, opening up hundreds of acres of city-owned land for development.

Additionally, more than 200 acres has been certified by Entergy Mississippi as “Economic Development Qualified Sites,” meaning they’re development-ready for industrial use.

Opposite Jackson-Evers on Airport Road, construction is under way on a new convention center and golf course called the Refuge.

Arguments in the annexation case were slated for January 2019, but have been rescheduled for January 31, 2020.

Rhoads and Pearl Mayor Jake Windham couldn’t be reached for comment.

Flowood and Pearl’s efforts are not opposed by the city of Brandon.

While that battle is heating up, Jackson and JMAA embroiled in another legal battle, trying to block the state’s attempts to take over the airport. In 2016, lawmakers approved SB 2162, legislation doing away with JMAA and replacing it with a regional board.

City and airport officials have long questioned why the state is attempting to take control of the international facility, and have suggested race as a factor. Jackson is a majority black city. JMAA is governed by a five-member board, with all current members being African-American.

SB 2162, on the other hand, was authored by a handful of white Republicans from Rankin County.

Jackson attorneys are currently seeking documents to determine motive in the case and whether officials in Gov. Phil Bryant’s office should be forced to give deposition.

Arguments related to the case were recently presented before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. No ruling had been handed down in the matter at press time.

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