TUPELO • City leaders are seeking guidance over how best to develop 76-acres of flood prone, largely wooded land into residential property.

Last week, the Tupelo City Council agreed to pay nearly $70,000 for consulting services and research to Orion Planning + Design, a Montana-based company with an office in Hernando.

This advances a policy goal set in motion about three years ago. In May 2016, the Tupelo City Council allowed Mayor Jason Shelton to buy just over 76 acres of land at a cost of $450,000. The property is located between Lawndale Drive and Monument Drive.

Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan and Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings both opposed the purchase at the time, citing a lack of concrete development plans for the property.

Last week, only Bryan opposed the Orion consulting contract. He views the project as speculative real estate development and believes public money could be better spent elsewhere.

The city wants to spur residential development on the 76 acre site, but there are challenges. Part of the land is in a flood plain, and the site has also historical and cultural value, with connections to the Chickasaw and the French and Indian War’s Battle of Ackia, which was largely fought in and around what’s now the Lee Acres neighborhood.

Orion will conduct housing market research, do some preliminary engineering and architectural work and hold talks with Chickasaw and National Park Service officials.

Shelton’s administration hopes to use this research material to possibly attract the involvement of private housing developers.

“We just want to show you what’s possible,” Tupelo Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis told the City Council in a recent work session.

At the time of the 2016 purchase, Shelton’s administration acknowledged only hazy ideas about how the property might be used.

Now, a little over three years later, Lewis said City Hall wants to turn broad strokes into specific strategies.

“This is to get us a plan,” Lewis said.

The 76 acres are located near an area that has seen the investment of significant public money and effort, including the purchase and demolition of the Azalea Gardens and President’s Gate apartment complexes.

A plan that the City Council has previously seen calls for new housing developments to fall along three income tiers.

Near the intersection of Ida and Lawndale, the construction of low-income Section 42 housing should be soon underway.

Further south of that area, including the publicly-owned 76-acre tract, city leaders hope to see the construction of middle class housing, with some larger, higher-priced homes along the southernmost edge of the development zone, bordering the Audubon neighborhood.

caleb.bedillion@journalinc.com Twitter: @CalebBedillion

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