Ridgeland’s Costco rezoning was affirmed by a circuit judge after nine residents filed suit last April opposing the change in the Renaissance Phase III development off the Highland Colony Parkway.

Circuit Court Judge John Emfinger ruled to affirm an April 5, 2016, amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance that allowed for certain elements for master planned developments.

“At the hearing on the instant amendment, the City produced an abundance of proof in support of its textual amendment of the ordinance, which the City contends is consistent with the 2009 comprehensive plan. The Court finds that the amendment was supported by substantial evidence, was not arbitrary or capricious, was not beyond the power of the City to make and not violate any statutory or constitutional right of the Appellants,” Judge Emfinger wrote in his ruling affirming the City’s position.

The nine residents who filed the appeal are: Gerald Emmett Beard, Charles Jules Michel, Harold Joseph Byrd, Nils Kerem Mungan, George Thatcher Shepard Jr., Matthew Denson DeShazo, William M. Aden, Thomas I. Rice III and Joel G. Payne Jr.

The appeal specifically concerns an amendment made to the city’s zoning ordinance, more specifically changes made to the C-2 zoning classification, that the plaintiffs claim were made bring in a Costco to the Renaissance Phase III development on the Highland Colony Parkway.

The homeowners accuse the city of “spot zoning,” saying the has not demonstrated that the area’s makeup had changed in any meaningful way to warrant a zoning change.

The amendment to the C-2 zoning allows certain elements from C-2a and C-3 zoning classifications that include allowances for fast food restaurants and drive throughs for large master planned developments. They say an item concerning service stations was added from C-3 specifically for Costco.

Beard and company were represented by attorney Sheldon Alston. City Attorney Jerry Mills represented the city. Each side was allowed 30 minutes to present their case.

Alston presented communications between Community Development Director Alan Hart where Costco representatives were consulted on the specifics of the amendments.

The city argued that the amendment was not spot zoning because it affected at least 17 locations within the city and that Hart’s communications go on to mention that he had received interest from other big box stores and the amendments could encourage further development from other retailers looking to build a multi phase master plan developed project.

Mills also cited a Mississippi Supreme Court Case from the 1960s that ruled “spot zoning is not, per se, illegal.”

Mayor Gene McGee said that he was pleased to hear the court ruled in the city’s favor.

“The approval by the court confirms that the City of Ridgeland’s Mayor and Board are very careful to make changes in our zoning ordinance that are correct and totally legal. We are excited that this paves the way for quality development. We will continue to strive to make Ridgeland the best that it can be and provide the high quality of life that our citizens expect and deserve, while keeping taxes low,” McGee said.

Last year, the developer, Andrew Mattiace, said they would like to start construction on the anchor tenant later this year. Land was already being cleared in March.

“We are certainly pleased with the outcome of the judge’s decision,” Mattiace said this week. “Renaissance Phase III will continue to move forward as planned to complete site work in 2017 and open stores in fall of 2018. This will occur in conjunction with our expansion of the existing Renaissance site. The level of quality of the new development will be in keeping with our Renaissance style of landscaping, hardscape, lighting and green space.”

The proposed development would include one primary anchor tenant, Costco, and five additional tenants who have yet to be named.

The anchor tenant would be located in the southern portion of the development and would include an approximately 150,000 square foot building with approximately 650 parking spaces and necessary utilities.

The additional five tenants would include a total of approximately 158,000 square foot of retail space with approximately 955 parking spaces.

The project, as it stands, will be broken into two separate projects that operate off one master plan.

Central to the project is the Lake Harbour extension that will connect with the Highland Colony just south of the development.

Dogged opponents of the project have said that the development would bring in more traffic than the Parkway could handle and would alter the serene aesthetic appeal residents have long enjoyed living in the country.

“I do not think it is good public policy for the elected officials of Ridgeland to change well-established, tested zoning standards at the behest of folks seeking to circumvent the law in favor of their development projects in the name of economic development for any reason,” Beard said in a statement after the trial in March. “If a project warrants rezoning then follow the law and rezone it.”

He added, “The question for me, as well, is how viable are all the retail developments being undertaken in Ridgeland and what will the impact be on surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole in the long term?”

Those opposed are mostly residents of nearby upscale developments of Dinsmor, Canterbury, Windrush and Greenwood Plantation all west of I-55 in the Old Agency Road vicinity.

Other reasons have been that the development would alter animal habitats and the natural flow of Purple Creek, which drains south toward County Line Road, although state Department of Environmental Quality officials cleared the development in June of last year and again at an evidentiary hearing appealing that decision in early November.

Constructed by Madison County, the City of Ridgeland and Madison the City, the Parkway initiative required special enabling legislation in the Mississippi Legislature.

When the Parkway opened, with the exception of the then-brand new Madison Central High School, there was nothing but forest and pasture land. which has since exploded with commercial and even residential development, especially north of Old Agency, attracting major corporate tenants like C Spire and stand-alone buildings for many of the metro’s major financial institutions like Trustmark.

The Parkway runs all the way from I-220 in Jackson north to Mississippi 463 in Madison.

Right-of-way for the eight-mile $10 million Parkway, which opened in April 1994, was donated by landowners with the express intent of creating commercial development.