HAWL granted access to Cooper Road

Published 12:01 am Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hide-A-Way Lake residents may now use the subdivision’s opening onto Cooper Road, but only as a way to drive out of the gated community.

Picayune’s City Council plans to appeal a Circuit Court decision allowing that use because it doesn’t want the gate used at all, except in emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina when it was allowed to open for the first time.

HAWL has one main entrance and exit, off U.S. 11, to provide access for the more than 900 homes. The one secondary access onto Cooper Road was used previously only in emergencies.

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Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell issued a decision May 28, on the matter in a suit that was filed in October 2006. Exit only access onto Cooper Road began June 1. That gate will be open to those residents from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. during weekdays only said HAWL General Manager Bruce Devillier. On Thursday, the city council discussed the matter in executive session and later decided to appeal the court’s ruling.

City Attorney Nathan Farmer said once the judge’s ruling is filed, he will file his appeal. Court personnel said it usually takes two weeks for a ruling to be filed.

Harrell said he ruled in favor of HAWL due the fact that HAWL has seen growth in the past few years, as has Picayune. The fact that the area is experiencing extreme growing pains needs to be addressed. Harrell said having only one access point into the subdivision causes a welfare issue.

“If you had an emergency situation in a subdivision with 969 homes and only one exit, that’s not good,” Harrell said.

Devillier said there are 1,561 total lots in the subdivision.

Harrell’s decision states that the access point will be exit only for the next 30 months. HAWL association is required to contribute $60,000 to the City of Picayune over a five-year period. After the 30 months, residents will be able to enter and exit through that gate, HAWL’s lawyer Rick Norton said.

HAWL also will have to build its own security gate at the entrance off of Cooper Road within the next 12 months. Norton said that if the subdivision does not adhere to the ruling then it could go back to court.

“I can assure you that Hide-A-Way Lake will be working on building the gate,” Norton said.

Harrell said he took into consideration that the city could get federal aid for Cooper Road to accommodate the increased traffic. City Manager Harvey Miller disagrees. He said the city is working to submit a request to the Mississippi Department of Transportation to add Cooper Road to the list of federally funded roads but that request has yet to be submitted. Miller said there is still a chance that request will not be approved. A decision is three to six months away.

Miller said engineers hired to look at the road estimate it would cost about $1 million to fix the road, which includes relocation of sewer lift stations.

“Hide-A-Way Lake residents will get the use of it, and Picayune residents will pick up the bill,” Miller said.

That might entail the city taking out another bond issue, which would increase city resident taxes, Miller said. The court-ordered $60,000 is only a tiny fraction of what it will take to fix the road, he said.

“We just feel like someone needs to share the cost with us,” Miller said.

Devillier said current estimates to bring the road to MDOT standards differ. While the city turned in an estimate of $1 million, county engineers estimate the cost to be $300,000. Devillier would not say if the subdivision would be willing to offer more than $60,000 to help bring the road up to standards.

Court documents filed in the county Circuit Court by HAWL state the subdivision was accepted by the board of supervisors in 1969, with south gate access to Cooper Road. According to documents filed by the city, that access was historically for emergency access only. When Millbrook Estates was plated in 1978 Cooper Road ended at Millbrook and no appeal was ever filed by HAWL, the documents state. Also in 1980 when Millbrook was annexed into the city limits there was no appeal by HAWL.

Millbrook Homeowners Association president Cecil Watkins said opening the HAWL gate could bring as many as 1,000 additional cars a day onto Cooper Road. He said the new road being built for the new hospital will only compound the problem.

“(Cooper) road as it stands now, it won’t handle that kind of traffic,” Watkins said.

On June 2, Watkins said he noticed that traffic had doubled in the morning. Devillier said he estimates there are about 60 cars that use that exit in that two hours. When the subdivision was using that exit just after Hurricane Katrina, Devillier said about 200 cars came onto Cooper Road in that same time frame.

John Roddish, president of HAWL’s Home Owners Association, said the subdivision was designed to have two access roads. Since Katrina growth in the city and HAWL has boomed. Roddish also is concerned about the additional traffic that will be created by Beau Jardin, which has the same access to U.S. 11 as HAWL residents.

Roddish agrees that the money mandated by the court to pay the city will not be enough to fix the entire road, but was apprehensive about promising more money. He said county residents already pay taxes, while it does not go to the city, the taxes they do pay to the county do not come into HAWL except when the Sheriff’s Department is called out. HAWL maintains their own roads.

Roddish said the current width of Cooper Road is in line with 75 percent of the other roads in the county, 18 feet, so no additional work is required.

Payment of the $60,000 will come from the dues the residents are currently paying. Devillier does not expect there to be an increase in dues at this time, but using that money to pay the city will cut out a planned project slated for the subdivision.