For more than two and a half years, regular meetings of the I-269 Corridor Study Committee were held — with most meetings lasting three hours or more as planning commissioners and the the public held sway on planning for the nation's newest super highway.
The meetings were facilitated by former DeSoto County Director of Planning Ted Garrod and the third-floor board room was often packed.
Meetings lasted so long snacks such as cookies and soft drinks were provided to the public.
The overall plan and blueprint for the corridor, which includes a total of 13 exits encompassing more than 28 miles in DeSoto County, was developed, approved and put on the shelf.
When the nation's economy suffered a meltdown following the Great Recession, the corridor study remained on the shelf until economic conditions improved.
Now that development has begun booming again, some residents seemed surprised to learn that such careful planning had gone into the corridor study and now that plan is poised to be implemented in a very big way.
At Monday's meeting of the DeSoto County Board of Supervisors, the board's five members unanimously approved a C-2 zoning for 65.73 acres from agricultural to C-2, or commercial.
The parcel of land is located on the southwest corner of Laughter Road and I-269.
However, approval came only after lengthy discussion between supervisors and nearby residents who wanted a C-4 zoning or planned unit development zoning rather than a strictly commercial or C-2 zoning.
Residents said they feared a truck stop, salvage yard and other permitted uses which were not expressly planned but included in a long list of permitted conditional uses.
However, the owner of the property and applicant Barry Bridgforth removed those items from being on the list of permitted conditional uses along with motor vehicle sales.
Resident Lisa Houston objected to any potential establishment of a travel park like a Jellystone along or near the I-269 Laughter Road corridor.
Longtime resident Ernest Dobbins said he respected Bridgforth but disagreed that a C-2 zoning was proper, opting instead for a C-4 zoning, which in his estimation, would allow for more community involvement.
"We know there will be a change," Dobbins said. "We want to have a say-so. We want some control. That's all we're asking."
However, District 2 Supervisor Mark Gardner held up the lengthy list of stricken or prohibited uses that Bridgforth was willing to make and eliminate and argued that residents did indeed have a "say-so" in what was eventually adopted.
"In government, as in business, as in life, you don't always get what you want but what you can negotiate," Gardner said. "It's all about what you are able to negotiate. This is good government. We can sit here and have good discussion."
Remarking about all the planning and research that has gone into I-269, Gardner said the "future" is "now."
"We're about to have 13 exits on 28 miles of interstate," Gardner said. "If people are going to dig in their heels and say we don't want commercial development because their family has lived there for 100 years, they will leave here disappointed."
Younger resident Douglas "Mandela" Dobbins said a C-4 zoning designation "would be a continuation of good government."
"Years later after the board is gone, we will still be here," Dobbins said.
Other Dobbins family members spoke in opposition to the C-2 zoning request by Bridgforth, as represented by Steve Steinbach, an urban planner from Memphis.
Bridgforth took the podium to explain that the Laughter Road property will not be the site of a "big box retailer" or "anything like that" and that as a result, a C-4 zoning classification, used for larger, concept-style developments, was "inappropriate."
Bridgforth stated the Laughter Road property was designed for smaller, more low-key commercial development. Under a C-4 classification, there are other, typically larger conceptual plans of a more grand scale.
Those type developments will likely be in other areas along I-269, according to Bridgforth, saying he can't compete with larger development companies such as Boyle Investment Company of Memphis.
Again, Gardner urged for residents see the bigger picture.
"We are about to become the major thoroughfare between Nashville and Jackson, Mississippi," Gardner said. "That will be in just a few months," added Gardner, noting that I-269 is slated to open with a target date of Sept. 20.
District 5 Supervisor Michael Lee agreed with Gardner's assessment.
"Growth is coming," Lee said. "I know it's hard on us. Growth hurts but it's a reality."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at email@example.com or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.