Appeal filed on 13-story building
- Residents' legal action won't slow Ridgeland development, company says
By Elizabeth Crisp
Residents opposing construction of a 13-story building that was narrowly approved by Ridgeland aldermen earlier this month have filed an appeal challenging the board's decision.
The 200 Renaissance office building, part of a mixed-use development near Highland Colony Parkway and I-55, has been a point of conflict in the city for several months. Residents for and against the project have formed groups, started blogs and circulated petitions.
The appeal was filed late Friday afternoon, the last day an appeal could be filed. But it will not slow developer Buster Bailey's plans for the project, said Stewart Speed, president of Colony Properties, an H.C. Bailey company.
"The appeal was entirely expected, and we plan to proceed with our building plans because we are confident that we will win the appeal," Speed said.
After a public hearing earlier this month that lasted six hours and stretched past 1 a.m., aldermen voted 4-3 in favor of a height exception that was needed because structures in the area are limited to four stories.
Bailey, who could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon, has said he expects construction to take about two years and that the building needs to be completed for tenants by October 2009.
The project has drawn commitments from three major firms: the Butler Snow law firm, Horne CPA and an unnamed third tenant believed to be Regions Bank.
Lawson Hester, a Dinsmor resident who has been a vocal opponent of the building, said several of the 33 people listed as petitioners on the appeal live in Old Agency Village, the subdivision nearest the building.
The list also includes representatives from each of the other subdivisions near the building, as well as Ridgeland residents living east of the interstate, he said.
"There were many more people who volunteered to be appellants in this case, but we think we have a good representation with these," said Hester, a lawyer.
While nothing has been set, Hester said he expects a court hearing to be held sometime in December or January.
Ward 5 Alderman Scott Jones, who made the motion to approve the developer's request, said he does not think a judge will rule in favor of the appeal.
Jones carefully worded the motion - citing all 15 criteria for a variance listed in the city's zoning ordinance - to ensure its legality, he said.
"We did everything we could possibly do to make it as defensible as possible," he said.
While the project did gain the city's approval, aldermen have asked that changes be made to the building's design.
"It was asked that they change the building skin to be more in character with the rest of the development," Jones said.
The architects are working on the modifications to the building's exterior and could have new plans in about three weeks, Speed said.
"There are some things they will be able to change without making major structural changes," said Jones, who works as a structural draftsman.
Speed said work on the new plans is proceeding.
"(Some aldermen) felt that the architecture was incompatible with the area," he said. "We didn't feel that way, but we are working on it."
The building's modern scheme, in juxtaposition to surrounding developments, was one issue brought up repeatedly by residents who opposed it.
The main arguments that will be presented in the appeal focus on zoning requirements for the property, Hester said. The 200 Renaissance site is zoned C4, or highway commercial district.
In addition to the height restriction, the zoning class puts limits on the ratio of a building's size versus the size of the property.
"They have approved an allowance of an excessive number of square feet for the available land," Hester said. "There is no means in which that can lawfully be approved."
Hester also said he thinks that aldermen voted on the request without examining all of the evidence presented or the testimony given at the hearing.
"The evidence was not properly considered," he said.
Other arguments that have been made include that the building goes against the character of the area.
There are 72 buildings on Highland Colony Parkway that are four stories or fewer.
The first building to deviate from that was another Renaissance structure - the eight-story Cellular South building recently completed. Aldermen approved a height exception for it in 2005 with little opposition from residents.
"No one else has ever sought the board's approval to build over four stories," Jones said. "The first one, Cellular South, was approved."
During the public hearing, Hester argued that another law firm, Copeland, Cook, Taylor & Bush, has its attorneys in several buildings on the parkway because they are not more than four stories.
Jones said all of the city's requests are judged on a case-by-case basis and that aldermen weigh the benefits to the city.
"If Copeland Cook had asked five years ago, when they were the first building in Ridgeland, if they could be in a taller building, there's probably a good chance it would have been approved," Jones said. "They didn't ask us."
Jones said he thinks most of the city's residents are ready to move past the issue.
To comment on this story, call Elizabeth Crisp at (601) 942-9019.