Higgins: Big prospect locating to industrial park hinges on result of civil suit

 

Joe Max Higgins

Joe Max Higgins

 

Victoria Cheyne

 

 

A large company has expressed interest in locating to Starkville's nearly-complete North Star Industrial Park, but the prospect hinges on an ongoing civil lawsuit that has challenged rezoning of the park's property from commercial to manufacturing. 

 

Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins told Starkville Rotarians Monday he is confident the litigation -- which has made its way to the Mississippi Supreme Court for the second time -- will be over by October with a favorable result for the city. 

 

"We expect that in a very short fashion that case will be disposed of," Higgins said.  

 

Owners of property adjacent to the 384-acre park, northwest of the Highway 82-389 intersection, filed suit after city aldermen approved the rezoning request in January 2017, asserting that the LINK -- the region's contracted industrial development agency -- failed to include "clear and convincing evidence" with its application and that the rezoning didn't comply with Starkville's comprehensive plan. Both the Oktibbeha County Circuit Court and Mississippi Court of Appeals has sided with the city and LINK, and the Supreme Court declined to review the case when it was appealed there the first time. 

 

Last week attorneys representing nearby property owners, Bettye Bell, Mary S. Bell, Margaret Copeland, Laura B. White and LMK LLC, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the Mississippi Supreme Court to have their case reviewed. 

 

At the park, smaller projects would be housed east of Rutherford Road, where the landscape rolls, Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said. To the west, larger projects would find a home, he said, and the "very large project" is interested in becoming a tenant on that side.  

 

Any manufacturing company that would locate there with the current commercial zoning could only employ 10 people or less, Higgins said. It's critical the property be rezoned so a project with "125 jobs with a $25- or $30-million investment can go there," he said. 

 

"Hopefully we'll get this zoning thing behind us and we'll be able to locate that facility on that side," Higgins said. "That would probably be the marquee for the whole park." 

 

Higgins claimed the court case has cost the community the opportunity to play for $400 million worth of projects and 1,500 jobs, because marketability of the park has been restricted by the rezoning issue.  

 

"We're not able to maximize the investment that the city and county have made," Higgins said. "The fact of the matter is we cannot reach where we want to go until this is done." 

 

Otherwise, Higgins said the $14 million park is at least 95 percent complete and "really taking shape now."  

 

"We're going to have a park," Higgins said. "We're going to be able to market it, (and) we're going to be able to develop it."  

 

Water and sewer infrastructure have been installed. Road crews are still completing work in the park, but it's on smaller projects, Higgins said. Grass has already been seeded, and shoulder work to the roads is finished. 

 

The only remaining significant projects are building a water tank and signage on the property, Higgins said. However, a $1 million grant crucial for the tank's construction from the Appalachian Regional Commission remains in limbo due to the lawsuit.  

 

The commission hasn't released the funds despite the LINK's efforts to explain that some of the park could be developed in the case that they lose in court. 

 

If worst comes to worst, the LINK will just have to hold off on the water tank until the lawsuit is resolved, Higgins said.  

 

On July 18, a meeting with representatives from the City of Starkville, Oktibbeha County and the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority will review an in-the-works deal for the park's first tenant. The three entities may choose to table the proposal or reject it in that meeting, but if all goes well, they will approve it, and the park will have its first project, Higgins said. 

 

This deal is not contingent upon rezoning for advanced manufacturing, he said.

 

 

 

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