Growth in the county continues and is expected to continue

Published 12:35 am Sunday, February 25, 2007

A year and a half later, the words Hurricane Katrina and growth are still used by county officials as they discuss the county’s needs and its future.

The Pearl River County Board of Supervisors and the Planning and Development Office have witnessed the growth and have been doing their best to ensure that growth will not take away from the unique charm of the county.

The largest impact of Hurricane Katrina the board has noticed is the increase in traffic and the all the new people that came with the traffic. Some of those problems for county officials arise when developers of subdivisions need access, or increased access, with a wider road to the lots they propose, said County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin.

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Planning and Development has witnessed the residential growth and the increasing needs of the county as it grows. Director Harold Holmes said in 2006 there were 13 new subdivisions, which produced 552 new lots. Those numbers do not include individual parcel splits, he said. In the coming year, his office expects to receive requests for 40 new subdivisions totaling about 4,800 new lots, but those numbers are estimations, he said. One thing Holmes is sure of is the increased talk about county development since the storm.

A problem arises with the ad valorem tax, or real property tax, on new parcels, because it does not go on tax rolls for about two years after a home is built, putting constraints on the county budget, Lumpkin said.

The delay in receiving taxes on the property makes it hard to provide the services county residents need, the county administrator said. The offices from which services are provided and residents rely on are bursting at the seams. Recently Lumpkin moved his office from the county courthouse to make more room for other offices in that elderly building.

Most county office buildings were built years ago when the population was much smaller and growth was slow. To make room for new demands, the board has been considering building a structure capable of providing the same services as the courthouse, only much larger than the courthouse.

That building would be located in the county seat, Poplarville, Lumpkin said. While there are no plans to rid the county of its historic courthouse, space in the building is limited, Lumpkin said.

“As growth comes and we move down the road in the near future we are going to have to address these issues,” Lumpkin said.

The courthouse is not the only building bursting at the seams. Lumpkin said grand jury reports for the past several years have been critical of all county-owned buildings, not just the courthouse. There are two ways to resolve the lack of space in county buildings — invest in the old buildings or build new ones, Lumpkin said. In the case of the courthouse, that means a new building since the courthouse is a historic building and its features by law must be preserved.

“It’s hard to modernize a building as old as the courthouse,” Lumpkin said.

Some other counties have made museums of their historic courthouses, but that’s not necessarily what will happen here, Lumpkin said.

The board is gathering data on the square footage and office space needed for a new building, but no decision has been made on building one. There has also been talk in previous board meetings about a county office building in Millard, but no decision has been made on that either.

The Chimney Square site in Picayune is supposed to be the site of a new county office building to serve that area since the old building had to be torn down because of damage from the storm. Supervisors at Monday’s board meeting will review more proposed drawings for modification. Lumpkin said he hopes to see construction begin on that building sometime this year.

While residential development has been booming, there has been little commercial development. The Planning and Development Office is trying to form a comprehensive land use plan for future commercial development to ensure quality in that kind of development, Holmes said.

Holmes said he expects commercial development to pick up since the county is working towards a residential population capable of supporting much more commercial development. Currently residents do much of their shopping outside of the county, but the addition of businesses such as Wal-Mart, and more recently Home Depot and Walgreens, gives residents more reason to keep their money in the county, Holmes said.

“The City of Picayune recently did see some commercial development,” said Julia Anderson, with Planning and Development.

Managers at Home Depot already are considering expanding that store due to the increase in business, Holmes said. He expects the commercial activity in Picayune to expand into the rest of the county.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Holmes said.

Other commercial interests such as Target and Academy are focusing their gaze on Pearl River County, Holmes said. The Planning and Development director said he got wind that Resurrection Life Worship Center may be in the process of selling its current location to Target and that the church plans on relocating elsewhere.

Another economic magnet for the county will Lake Troy, slated to be built in the Millard area. Holmes said he is waiting on a final report from the county’s environmental consultant. Supervisors discussed the project with the Mississippi congressional delegation during their trip to Washington last week, Holmes said.

“The concrete is still a little mushy (but) things appear to be going in a positive direction,” Holmes said. “We haven’t hit any road blocks yet.”

While all of these things appear to forecast an increase in commercial development in the near future, Holmes does not expect it to take place anytime soon. Many things will come into play before a major boom in commercial development takes place in Pearl River County, he said. That is part of the reason the Pearl River County Utility Authority was formed, to ensure the county develops with quality and uniqueness in mind, he said.

“It’s not happening in one year, mind you,” Holmes said. “It’s happening in a five- or 10-year window. It’s an evolutionary process.”