Ridgeland woman stands up to her board of aldermen

As seen in the NORTHSIDE SUN

On June 7, at the Ridgeland City Hall, Mayor Gene McGee, in concert with aldermen Chuck Gautier, Wesley Hamlin, Kevin Holder, and Scott Jones, handed de facto control of Ridgeland to a consortium of Jackson developers and the Seattle-based retailer, Costco. The vote was four to three, with Aldermen Ken Heard, Brian Ramsey, and D.I. Smith voting to retain control of our city.

At issue, this night, was the proposed design of a giant Costco store, the one that Mayor McGee and the entire board first tried to sneak into town without the knowledge of its residents.

There is not space here to cover the subsequent zoning subterfuges, but the final ploy was the creation of a whole new category of giant development. By then, thank God, three aldermen had decided that Costco should not dictate the organization and appearance of our city.

Those in the pockets of Costco and the developers claimed that the new category would give them “more control.” Then, at the June 7 meeting, they demonstrated that they have no control whatsoever.

The design of the Costco to be located on Highland Colony Parkway just south of the Natchez Trace was an exercise in Big Box Tacky. The majority of the board voted for it anyway, saying that they would “make changes that reflect what we’ve heard tonight.” They would not, the mayor said, present a new design rendering to the public.

At that moment, control of our city passed to Costco and those who will make money off the project.

Any leverage they had, they gave away. That alone should make them ashamed of themselves as managers.

They did not listen to the people who elected them. They were unwilling or unable to apply the methods and good sense applied by our neighbor to the north, Madison, and its capable mayor, Mary Hawkins Butler.

In the discussion portion of the evening, a bespectacled, diminutive, African American lady rose to speak. In tones far more polite than I could have managed, she identified herself as a resident of the affected area.

And then she called out the Costco-leaning board members, saying:

“Gentlemen, I regret to say, that at last night’s meeting (a ‘work session’ on the Costco design proposal), I was truly disappointed, disappointed almost to the point of being ashamed of you as elected officials who are sworn to represent the best interests of the people of Ridgeland. The Costco representatives made you look like little boys who are afraid of the schoolyard bully.

“Ridgeland is our home. It’s your home. You shouldn’t let a bully come in and just take over. I say to each one of you, ‘Stand up. Act like a man. Protect your home.’

“If you can’t act like a man, then act like a woman. When Walmart wanted to move into Madison, Mayor Mary stood toe-to-toe with an even bigger bully. She did not allow Walmart to build in Madison until they conformed to and met the architectural standard of other developments in the area. The result has been great for Madison and even greater for Walmart.

“Despite the assurances given by the developer last August, the renderings presented at last night’s meeting show a building which looks nothing like anything currently in Renaissance. [The Costco project is supposed to be a ‘phase’ of Renaissance.] Other than some minor details such as the color of the building and the proposed landscaping, there is nothing about this project that makes it compatible with the surrounding community.

“Gentlemen, stand up. Enforce the Ridgeland Area Master Plan. There are no metal warehouses in Renaissance, and none should be allowed in this development either. Thank you.”

And thank you, ma’am.

William Jeanes is a Northsider.