Costco’s future in hands of supreme courtBy ANTHONY WARREN,
The future of the Ridgeland Costco could come down to the Mississippi Supreme Court’s definition of “spot zoning” and whether a change to the city’s zoning ordinance in 2016 was made specifically to benefit that retailer.
Oral arguments in the Ridgeland Costco case were heard in early February.
In 2016, nine Ridgeland residents appealed the city’s decision to amend its C-2 zoning classification to include “large master plan commercial developments.”
Opponents to the store claim the amendments were made specifically for Costco, which hopes to install a remote gas station at its proposed location.
The wholesale warehouse would be located on Highland Colony Parkway, south of the Old Agency Road Roundabout and the Natchez Trace Parkway.
The property is currently zoned C-2 for light commercial use. Before it was amended, the zoning classification did not allow for fueling stations. However, the stations are allowed in C-2 areas if they’re part of a “large master plan commercial development.”
Attorneys for the city, claim the zoning amendments do not constitute spot zoning, because they were made in line with Ridgeland’s “Comprehensive Master Plan.”
The city further argues that amendments affect parcels across Ridgeland, not just the Costco site.
Arguments were heard by Justices Jim Kitchens, Leslie King and Josiah Coleman.
“The zoning change that took place … came about for one purpose - to help the development of the Costco,” said Sheldon Alston, an attorney for the opponents.
Appellants include Gerald Beard, Charles Michel, Harold Byrd, Nils Mungan, George Shepard Jr., Matthew DeShazo, William Aden, Thomas Rice and Joel Payne Jr., according to court records.
“This court has said what spot zoning is not ... Even if there is use that is surrounded by less intense uses, it is not spot zoning even if it’s enacted in accordance with the comprehensive plan,” said Ridgeland attorney John Scanlon. “Mr. Alston didn’t bring one word today about the comprehensive plan, and there’s a good reason - it destroys his argument.”
Ridgeland’s comprehensive plan was approved in 2009. The plan looks at a number of factors, including future land use and transportation needs.
The plan assumes that Highland Colony’s future uses will include “general commercial,” which Scanlon classified as uses found under the C-2, C-2A and C-3 zoning classifications.
Ridgeland’s zoning ordinance classifies C-2 and C-2A as “general commercial.” but C-3 as “convenience commercial,” which would include convenience stores, service stations, drive-through fast food restaurants and other businesses that would generate higher volumes of traffic.
Scanlon further told the justices that the case did not constitute spot zoning, because the text amendments affect all 17 C-2 properties in the city. He also refutes claims that the amendments were not put in place specifically to benefit a Costco.
The mayor and board of aldermen approved the amendments in 2016. At the hearing Community Development Director Alan Hart testified that he had spoken with two other businesses interested in the site.
King, though, disagreed, telling Scanlon from the bench that “the evidence that (two other businesses are) interested in the land is considerably different than (the evidence) we have of Costco reaching out and affecting those code changes.”
The Costco is being developed by Mattiace and H.C. Bailey and be part of the third phase of Renaissance at Colony Park.
E-mails included in the court documents show city leaders and developers worked behind the scenes to accommodate the wholesale warehouse.
In an April 23, 2015 e-mail attorney Mark Davis told 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.”
At the time, Davis was representing Mattiace. It was not known at press time if he was still involved in the case.
Hart said in his response to the attorney he was meeting with Mattiace, so Mattiace 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.
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.”
The C-2 amendments were initially passed in 2015 and passed again in 2016.
The city’s 2016 decision was upheld by the Madison County Circuit Court, and opponents appealed the case to the state’s high court on September 25, 2017.
Under state statute, the court has 270 days from that date to hand down a decision.