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Farmland rezoning decision delayed until next year

By Randy Bell

It’ll be next year before the Board of Aldermen decides whether to rezone agricultural property in Clinton. The original proposal to reclassify all land zoned A-1 to R-E (residential estate) ignited a firestorm of protests from local farmers, who believe the change would hurt the value of their land, increase their taxes and make it harder to get farm loans.


At a Board work session December 5, the aldermen went in a new direction, deciding that any rezoning should be delayed until the City takes another look at its comprehensive plan, the document which first raised the idea of the reclassification.


“The comprehensive plan, when you look at it, minimally is confusing,” said Ward 4 Alderman Chip Wilbanks. “There are some confusing parts, maybe some inconsistency, maybe even some errors.”


The Board wants to work with the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District in February to revisit the plan.


“Let’s fix that, those issues,” Wilbanks said. “This is the time to look at the whole comprehensive plan. If we were going to do anything with the ag [rezoning] or anything else, then we would deal with it sometime thereafter.”


But Ward 1 Alderwoman Karen Godfrey said the City shouldn’t even be considering a zoning change for the farmland.


“It’s easy for us to just sit there and make decisions for people,” she said. “It won’t affect us, but it will affect them; and I just don’t think there’s a reason to do that.”


There’s also been talk about creating a new Rural classification for the land now zoned A-1, which might give the City the same authority to block unwanted agricultural developments that it would have if the farmland were rezoned residential estate.


But cattle farmer Jamie Christian said that wouldn’t really accomplish what the City wants to do. Christian and her husband have a 125-acre farm on Williamson Road. She’s also an attorney. And Christian said her interpretation of the state law which prevents cities and counties from putting restrictions on agricultural land is that it’s based on the use of the property, not how it’s zoned.

“So, even if the City redesignates us with another moniker, our land is still agricultural and used for traditional farm practices, so they wouldn’t be allowed to impose any ordinance that would restrict a hog farm or any other unwanted ag operation,” Christian wrote in an email.


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