West Jackson neighbors express concerns over proposed development

Bettye Dagner Cook expresses her concerns about the development.

JSU foundation supports idea; others are skeptical

By Gail M. Brown


Members of the West Jackson community filled Koinonia Coffee House Tuesday evening, July 10, to voice concerns about a proposed mixed-income community development project slated for the Metro Parkway.

The meeting was organized by the Best FOR* West, a group of concerned residents, and it was facilitated by Ronnie Agnew, executive director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Bettye Dagner Cook expresses her concerns about the development.

Rep. Alyce Clarke, a resident of West Jackson’s Pecan Park neighborhood, told The Mississippi Link: “We are here because we want to have some input into what goes on. We want to make sure they (the developers) are going to be bringing something into the community rather than just taking out. See, what they’ll be taking out is tax base. We just don’t want to be used.”

Representing the developer, Chartre Companies, LTD of Oxford, Miss., was David Kelly. He came to address residents’ concerns. Also in attendance were Jackson State University’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement David Hoard, who also serves as executive director of the JSU Development Foundation, the foundation’s Chairman Leland Speed, and Councilman Charles Tillman, Ward 5.

The proposed project (in another plan) was actually initiated several years ago by the JSU Development Foundation.

Hoard gave a brief overview. “It’s a continuation of the One University Place project,” he said. “ We have had a couple of other meetings. We wanted to make sure that people get plenty of opportunity for input into this foundation-related project. I think there has been some miscommunications.” He noted that the university and foundation are very excited.

“President Meyers, myself and others have been to three or four other locations across the state to look at different facilities the Chartre Company has done in Mississippi and throughout the Southeast, and we feel that they are one of the leading companies in the Southeast developing these type projects,” said Hoard.

“We are here to, I hope, to [alleviate] any misunderstanding and fears,” Kelly said as he began. “It has always been, when we go into a community, our objective is to be a catalyst for change; a catalyst for improvement. And we do that

by bringing a lot of different types of financing to the table.”

Kelly said the proposed development consists of about 150 units. “One of our goals is to help create … an overlay district,” he said. “That would allow us, in the size of a community that we are talking about, to do what we call a REDA (Regional Economic Development Authority). That allows is to accomplish what the president [Dr. Carolyn Meyers] would like to see which is landscaping features, walkable paths, street scenes and verticle boxes to make it functional. You can’t do that without mass. You can’t build a few homes here; you can’t build a few homes there…You’re going to have to come in and make a sizeable investment.”

Kelly explained the three types of housing which will make up the community:

Affordable Housing (at 60 percent of area medium income. For Jackson, a 4-bedroom house, family of 5, that will be anywhere from $32-$37K income);

Workforce Housing (half of them has to be at 80 percent of area medium income and half at 120 percent of area medium income, so you’re talking about $64 to $68,000 in income; and

Market-Rate Housing would be whether or not one could afford the house.

Citizens fired question after question at Kelly. “The reason we have so many questions for you is that Jackson State pulled a whammy on us once before with Quick Take,” said resident and former City Council member Bettye Dagner Cook. “They are very secretive when it comes to this community. I’m just going to tell you up front, we felt like this was a secret, too. So, we have a bitter taste in our mouths when it comes to Jackson State, LLC and all these LLCs.”

Kelly responded by saying, “We were asked by Leland Speed to consider this. He came to us and said, ‘will you be willing to do a community,’ and we said, yes, we would. We were not aware of all of the ‘fun’ you all have been having for several years.” A hint of laughter surfaced from the audience.

Kelly continued, “So, we kind of walked into this kind of like you. Now we find ourselves here, and we are not in a hurry. We’ll sit down and we will work through it. We’ll show you what the plans are. We are going to work with you.” He stressed that Meyers, Speed and his company do not have any secrets. “We are going to show you everything that we are going to do. And you are going to get to make comments on it. Some things we can change, and some things we can’t.”

One resident wanted to know if the company could provide a model of what the community would look like. “No ma’am, there will not be a model. We’ll show drawings,” Kelly said. “I know you’ll show drawings, but drawings don’t show what a model could tell,” the woman said.

Kelly then said, “Typically, we don’t, but I will see what we can do.”

Charles Allen, another attendee, was concerned about the fence. Kelly indicated that the fence would be a wrought iron fence, one that one could see through. “It’s more of an ambiance. It will have landscaping in front of it. It is not a foreboding fence,” he said. Kelly said it would be more to keep people from walking in residents’ yards.

The JSU Development Foundation has slated about a 15-acre track across from Koinonia it acquired some years ago during Quik Take as the main area for the project. Chartre will maintain the property for 15 years. After which, it will give the occupants the option to buy. If a house cost $150K initially, after 15 years, it could be purchased for $50.

Their South Jackson Timber Falls Community is one of their developments with a similar setup.

“The people in the West community are concerned about what happens after 15 years,” said Dr. William Cooley, a respected businessman and retired JSU professor who lives in the Woodlea neighborhood in North Jackson.  “Right now, we don’t have a history because no one has done this before. I really think that if the blend is right and if the community continues to have input, that it would probably be good for the city. I want it to be what the West Jackson people would want. I love the West Jackson community.”

Businesswoman Lee Harper, owner of Koinonia, said she feels many of the residents’ questions were answered, but she still thinks there is a split among residents – for or against the effort. “I need to have some more questions answered before I can feel comfortable with it,” she said.

Native Jackson business developer Malcolm Shepherd said a few months ago when he heard of this project,” it was totally low income housing period. “From what I saw on the drawings, it lacked some amenities in green spaces, and not necessarily addressing some of the issues a developer should address in a community. Today, what I am hearing is a metamorphous of the development now….which sounds wonderful, but it should have been planned like that from the beginning,” Shepherd said. “So, I feel differently than I did the first time I heard it.”

Tillman did not give the project a thumbs up or down when asked. However, he told The Mississippi Link later that he does not particularly care for the proposed location of the project. “No, not right there. It would take away from the entrance to Jackson State,” Tillman said.

There are still a number of steps and processes the proposal has to go through like rezoning request, etc. Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said citizens can address their concerns before the rezoning board.

Best FOR* West will meet again, Tuesday, July 17, at the Koinonia Coffee House at 5 p.m.

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