It's not often a judge takes a trial on a field trip. But the judge who must decide the Bay St. Louis/Waveland annexation case wanted to see everything attorneys have spent the last three weeks talking about.
Both cities want to take some of the same land along Highway 603 to grow, but also to cash in on the sales tax base of this commercial corridor and property tax from old and new neighborhoods.
"I've been hearing lots of testimony about the characteristics of the area sought to be annexed. I've been hearing a lot of details about conditions. This gives me a change to look at the area and put all of that in perspective," said Chancery Court Judge Thomas.
Everyone agrees Highway 603 is Hancock County's future for commercial development. But Bay St. Louis and Waveland don't agree on which city can best manage that future.
"We had an opportunity to show him the spill-over growth that was occurring primarily in the 603 Highway area. Show him the reason why we need law enforcement zoning things of that sort in the areas growing North of Highway 90," said Waveland Attorney Zack Butterworth.
While driving around, the attorneys pointed out an eclectic mix of old and new buildings, areas without streetlights, and dirt roads both cities promised to pave.
"We saw a lot of different things, pointed out a lot of needs in the area, in particular, for code enforcement, different zoning regulations, lack of those, and what we think the city of Bay St. Louis can offer," said Bay St. Louis Attorney Don Rafferty.
"The residents of my area see annexation as a tax grab," remarked Hancock County resident Lynn Bell.
After the tour, it was time for more talk. This time from residents and business owners in the disputed areas. Judge Thomas listened.
"I'd rather have Waveland manage my tax dollars," said Land Developer Rodney Corr.
"What I'd like to see is someone look at it from a common sense approach. I think Waveland should get the West side of 603 and Bay St. Louis the East side. I think it needs to be split," said Hancock County Resident Billy Ray Sanders.
Judge Thomas will take what he learned on the annexation field trip back to the courthouse to make a decision. By law, Judge Thomas has up to six months to rule on the issue. But he told WLOX NEWS, he'd make a decision as soon as he reviewed all of the evidence and testimony presented during the trial. The judge didn't say how long that might take.