Habitat for Humanity donation pulled, owner cites city politics

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - A Hattiesburg resident withdrew a land donation to Habitat for Humanity because he didn't want the proposed project used as a "pawn" for city council members' "political agendas."

The land owner, who didn't want to be identified, wanted 6.5 acres of land at 306 Hood Road rezoned from industrial to residential land, split into 15 lots for homes and then donated to Habitat for Humanity.

"Habitat has a need for lots, spaces to build homes," he said. "Palmers Crossing is (in) a dire need of good housing for moderate and low income families."

The city planning commission voted to approve the zoning change in March, but when it was presented to the city council, the owner said members focused on old, unrelated issues from a previous project, instead of the task at hand.

"They start talking about their own personal agendas an whatever conflicts they have among themselves or the administration or whatever," he said.

As a result, he pulled his proposal, saying the next steps he would have to take weren't worth the hassle.

"If it had been done, there would be houses that could be built," he said. "I guess I've just given up."

Mary Dryden, city council vice president and Ward 4 representative, said it means a lot when people step forward to better the city for it's residents and regrets the city missed this opportunity.

"It bothers me greatly to think that we had an opportunity to have a project in a good location and that it fell through," she said.

Dryden says this project and the old one mentioned in the meeting are totally different because the previous proposal was a large apartment complex, not single-family homes. However, she says it is the council's job to vet plans to be sure the city has the infrastructure, like streets and water and sewer lines, to support any kind of new development.

"The questions about that, about infrastructure and that being adequate, were very appropriate because we just want to double check," Dryden said. 'So that was just to confirm that, yes, this is going to be just great. Again, I just think the situation was unfortunate. I regret very much that we lost the opportunity to provide affordable housing."

The property is in Ward 5, and Councilman Henry Naylor said there was a miscommunication between the land owner and council members' questions.

"It appeared to be a misunderstanding regarding the line of questions," Naylor said. "Obviously, we regret what happened. Hopefully this situation can be looked at another time with better results."

"It's not that I take this personally, it's just that I don't want to go through it again," the owner said. "If the city council can't get along, then I'm not going to be a participant."