Tensions flare during Pecan Acres forum

Starkville citizen Janette Self raises concerns on the proposed land swap involving Pecan Acres during a public forum in the community room at the Starkville Police Department on Wednesday. (Photo by Logan Kirkland, SDN)
Staff Writer

The community room in the Starkville Police Department headquarters was packed with tenants from Pecan Acres and citizens who passionately voiced concerns and questions pertaining to the proposed land swap involving the neighborhood.

Discussions around the proposed Pecan Acres move has generated debate and frustration in the community, with some arguing that the residents would no longer be in close proximity to a grocery store, drugstore and other businesses.

The event was sponsored by Indivisible Golden Triangle, the Oktibbeha County chapter of the NAACP, Oktibbeha County and Starkville Democrats, Progressive Starkville Network and Concerned Citizens of Oktibbeha County and Starkville.

The location, which was previously undisclosed due to a confidentiality agreement, is located on Highway 182 across from Longs Lake by Talley Ho Road.

Resident of Pecan Acres Alvin Turner, who has been vocally against the potential move, said relocating tenants is going to "create problems.”

"It doesn't make sense to say you love people and then turn around and cut them," Turner said.

Turner said he has lived in Pecan Acres for 17 years, and the uncertainty of the potential move causes him to worry about his future.

"You're going to take 17 years of a man’s life and throw it in the wind," Turner said. "It doesn't make sense."

Turner, who suffers from seizures and other health complications, said people can get to him easily if an issue arises due to the central location Pecan Acres is currently at. He said the move could make it harder for friends and family to reach him.

"You're gambling with my life," Turner said.

Chairman of the Starkville Housing Authority Board Loren Bell said residents would still have their neighbors and their house would be in better condition.

He said the Housing Authority will continue to do everything to take care of residents in Pecan Acres.

"If you don't want us to go forward with the project, we won't move forward with the project," Bell said.

He said once the Housing Authority conducts all of its meetings, tenants and community members will see this has the potential to be a great project for both tenants and the city.

One concern, which was brought up repeatedly during the forum, was there are many tenants without transportation and use the practical location to walk to places of need.

Bell said he understands the current location next to a grocery store is a "no brainer,” but he mapped out the proposed new location with his GPS to see the potential distances.

One example he gave was how Dollar General was less than half a mile away, and the room erupted with disapproval.

"We realize that any time you're talking about 74 units, nothing is going to be perfect, but we're not through yet," Bell said.

When asked about the value of the two lots of land, Bell said they know the value of the land on Highway 12 is much higher, while the potential new location is at a lower value.

"We are sacrificing them," an attendee interjected.

As more and more concerns of the feasibility of walking to locations were brought up, Bell said there will be two plots of land located toward the front of the new Pecan Acres.

He said the Housing Authority would have some say as to what developments would be placed there.

"Y'all talk about distance, we're in Starkville, we're not too far away from anything," Bell said. "Walmart is close."

The volume of discussion rose, while another person shouted "You can't walk there."

One resident said they understand most tenants may have transportation, but the primary concern should be with those who are the "most vulnerable" not the ones who are the "most capable.”

"What I see is gentrification," attendee Laura Jean Carr said. "I'm ashamed of it."

Other concerns tenants had over the location concerned moving to a location without surrounding developments and no plans of other developments.

Janette Self attended the meeting and said if Starkville is concerned about growing, why won’t developers put their money into creating a development out on Highway 182.

"We are always talking about we need to build up on 182," Self said. "This was an optimal time to put something else on 182 besides a Dollar General.”

Attorney and developer Johnny Moore proposed this plan to the Starkville Board of Aldermen in April where a 70,000-square foot replica of Pecan Acres could be built in an area approved by the Fair Housing Administration.

Moore said the plan would be to take Pecan Acres’ previous location and put approximately $150 million worth of infrastructure and development on the property. The proposed development, which would take the place of Pecan Acres, already has interest of a hotel, restaurants and potentially a small bowling alley.

As for the residents, Moore said the units would be built before moving the residents in. Residents will not be displaced for any period of time.

The Housing Authority agreed to have a public hearing about the possible new development on July 12 at the Greensboro Center.

Along with the public hearing, the Housing Authority will host a triad of meetings with tenants on June 6. The times of the meetings are at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to meet the needs of the tenants.