Jackson gating ordinance still in limbo

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Months after a contentious hearing forced two Northside neighborhoods to pull their applications for public access gates, Jackson’s gating policy remains as confusing as ever.

Northside council members had different answers as to whether the city was still accepting applications for the gates. 

Meanwhile, another councilman who called for amending the gating ordinance in the spring has yet to schedule a committee meeting to begin discussing them.

Jackson’s planning and development director, Jordan Hillman, said the city was “technically” accepting applications, saying no moratorium on gating had been put in place on the applications, even though amendments to the ordinance being introduced.

Ward One Councilman Ashby Foote also said applications were being accepted, as far as he knew. While Ward Seven Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay was unsure whether applications were being accepted, and referred the Sun to Hillman.

Unlike private gates, which shut off neighborhoods to through-traffic, public access gates only delay entry. Motorists must drive up to the gate, press a button or simply wait for the gate to open. The devices slow down speeding motorists and deter criminals, who look for quick in and out access from crime scenes.

The confusion comes six months after two heated public hearings spurred the Eastover and Woodland Hills neighborhoods to withdraw their applications for public access gates.

Following the hearings, Ward Six Councilman Aaron Banks introduced two amendments to the gating ordinance, which were placed in the council’s planning committee.

That was in May. Since then, the amendments have been all but forgotten.

Banks said the council has had other priorities, including crafting the 2020 budget.

He hoped to schedule a committee meeting by the end of the calendar year. He said setting a meeting would be a matter of polling other council members to see when they’re available.

Lindsay said gating is still a high priority, but said the council is waiting for the new planning director to get acclimated to her position before moving forward with any changes.

Hillman was appointed to the position recently.

Banks said the code needs to be amended to address concerns brought up at the April public hearings.

Foote, though, said the ordinance is fine as is, and argues that several neighborhoods were approved for gates prior to the Eastover and Woodland Hills meetings.

In April, public hearings were held to give residents a chance to sound off on the applications submitted by the Greater Eastover Neighborhood Foundation and the Woodland Hills Conservation Association.

Opponents raised concerns about the placement of gates and their lack of ability to offer input during the application review process.

Under the current ordinance, gating applications are submitted to the site Plan Review Committee, which reviews and modifies plans without receiving public input.

Once applications are reviewed, they’re passed onto the city council for approval. The first time the public is allowed to comment on gating plans is during the council meeting.

Following the hearings both neighborhoods withdrew their applications.

IN late May, Banks introduced two amendments to the gating ordinance in response to the hearings. One would prohibit gates that would separate neighborhoods using the same collector streets or shared entrances. The other would prohibit exit-only gates shared entrances.

The councilman was open to amending the ordinance to allow for more opportunities for public input during the application review process.

Foote said the code is fine as it is, but would be willing to meet with Banks and other council members to discuss changes.

He argues that despite two contentious public hearings this spring, the ordinance has worked well for other neighborhoods.

Heatherwood, for instance, was approved for gates in February. Prior to that, gates were approved for Massena Heights, Northpointe Estates, Rollingwood and Northlake Drive, Melwood Place, Petit Bois and Avery Gardens, all under the current or previous ordinance.

Said Foote, “The issue that got folks worked up about the Eastover situation was one particular gate. That’s what the real concern was.”

The current statute took effect on October 12, 2017, after being amended at least twice before. In 2016, the ordinance was expanded to allow all neighborhoods to have access to public access gates. The initial ordinance was enacted in 2011.

The original code limited gates to subdivisions with one entrance. The amended version expanded gating to all neighborhoods but was put on hiatus after the city’s legal department said the ordinance did not include due process for those opposed to the gates.

The 2017 ordinance supposedly addressed that concern by requiring the council to hold a public hearing before voting on whether to approve or deny a gating request.

Leaders in Eastover and Woodland Hills declined to comment for this story.

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