Wednesday, August 15, 2018
JACKSON After over an hour of deliberation, the Jackson City Council voted to hand over seven of eight parcels Oxford-based developer Clarence Chapman after years of hold-up. An older woman is living in the remaining parcel, and the City decided not to hand that property over at the Aug 14 meeting in order not to displace her.
Council members were conflicted because although Chapman won those properties in an auction, some said the City should hold onto them so as not to let more of Farish Street slip away.
"Although we have a right to sell the property, we have a right not to sell the property, correct?" Ward 5 Councilman Charles Tillman asked in chambers. He said Farish Street was "losing big time" compared to the nearby Belhaven Historic District,
Council President Melvin Priester of Ward 2 said it is impossible to make everyone happy. He said the body needed to vote so that the parcels could stop lingering in the planning committee, as they had for the last couple of years.
In 2017, when Chapman officially bid on these properties held in the City's surplus division, he designated them for housing developments on Cohea Street in the Farish Street Historic District right around the corner from Helm Place—his other housing development comprised of Easter-egg colored homes that starkly contrast with other residences in the district.
It's been an open secret for years that if the Farish Street Historic District were to be resurveyed, it might not keep its slot on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History's register.
Mukesh Kumar, director of planning and development, did not comment on what past administrations had done pertaining to Farish Street, but he promised that his department ensures that any development in the district would follow guidelines to maintain the character of that neighborhood.
"I cannot comment on any decisions that happened prior to July of last year, but since then we have followed every procedure...," Kumar said. "...We are doing everything we can, and I am very confident that I can assure you that guidelines are being followed."
Kumar added that the historic designation is not in imminent danger, at least in terms of documentation.
In that sense, Chapman's new properties will be a test of how the Chokwe A. Lumumba's administration will regulate development around Farish Street. Kumar advocates for developers to seek community input before rolling out projects to the site planning committee, as will be the case with the downtown development in the works near the convention center, he said previously.
In this instance, Kumar can only ensure that his department holds Chapman accountable for following historic preservation guidelines for the district.
Chapman did not reply to requests for comment at press time.
Blight also tugs at the fabric of Farish Street. Ward 4 Councilman De'Keither Stamps introduced the idea of starting a Farish Street stability fund that will roll over to the next council meeting in two weeks for further discussion and consideration. Council Vice President Virgi Lindsay of Ward 7 believes the City's historic preservation ordinance needs to be strengthened, but for now she trusts the planning department to do what is in place to do. She sees need for development around Farish Street to revive it.
"Unfortunately, in a lot of historic districts what you have is ... a tremendous amount of demolition by neglect over the years," Lindsay said of Belhaven Heights and Belhaven as examples. To correct this, she said, there has to be infield development to reclaim these neighborhoods to preserve what is there and to get people living in the neighborhood once more.
"It is on us to make sure that that development complies with the historic-district guidelines. If it wasn't met to the letter before it was on us too, it was our fault," she added.
Email city reporter Ko Bragg at [email protected].