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Historic Area Threatened: Owners of Antebellum Estate Oppose Change in Natchez

By John Mott Coffey with News Mississippi affiliate WQNZ

The Natchez Board of Aldermen delayed a decision Tuesday on whether to allow homes to be built in a forested area near Auburn Avenue and Winchester Road amid fears of spoiling the area’s natural and historic setting.

Builder Jody Foster and neighbors opposing his plans are being urged to reach a compromise.

“Hopefully, we can come to some sort of middle ground,” said Alderman Tony Fields, whose ward includes the 33 lots where Foster wants to build townhouses and patio homes. “We need more discussions between the residents and the developer.”

Foster’s land is at the end of Ashburn, a small side street off Auburn, and sprawls into the woods near Routhland, an antebellum home and estate owned by the Ratcliffe family.

Mayor Butch Brown and aldermen held a public hearing Tuesday to consider Foster’s plans.

The Ratcliffes and other neighborhood residents — along with the Natchez Planning Commission — are asking the aldermen to deny Foster’s rezoning request.

“We don’t want (the new cluster of homes) in our backyards,” said Patsy Collins, who lives on Ashburn Street. “For Jody, it’s a business. For us, it’s personal.”

Foster said he and his company, River Homes LLC, envision an enclave of townhouses and patio homes but no apartment buildings in a prime location to meet a demand for more housing in Natchez.

“It was set up to be developed,” Foster said of the land that was the site of Ashburn, an antebellum house that burned down in 1872, according to historical records.

While Natchez has a glut of houses up for sale but no buyers, there are not enough midrange-priced houses for retirees and others who want a getaway second home, real estate agent Sandra Ellard told the mayor and aldermen Tuesday.

As the board put off a decision until its Aug. 26 meeting, aldermen can consider allowing the Ashburn homes being built but with specific restrictions set by the board.

Foster’s land is currently zoned by the city for just houses surrounded by large tracts such as Routhland, which was built around 1817. Foster is asking the city to reclassify his property so a mixture of single-family and two-family residences can locate there.

The Ratcliffes’ attorney, Grayson Lewis, told the board that their estate would be degraded by new homes in full view abutting the family’s property.

If the land is rezoned for the homes, more hurdles lie ahead before they can actually be built, said City Planning Director Frankie Legaux. Foster would still need specific site plans for his 33 parcels approved by the city Planning Commission. Building designs would need to be OKed by the Natchez Preservation Commission.

To appease those objecting to having the homes built, Foster said his housing development would not accommodate a dense population of residents.

However, Park Place resident Burnley Cook expressed concerns about this section of the town’s wildlife and historic properties being spoiled. “I don’t see a demonstrated need for all this extra housing,” Cook said.

Fields expressed hope that Foster and his neighbors can reach a compromise for the board’s approval so Natchez can increase its number of nice homes.

“I think our ward can be a model for housing,” Fields said.


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