RIDGELAND - A new dispute over the height of the future Hyatt Hotel at the Renaissance development could be incorporated into a pending appeal of a controversial 13-story office building.

Lawson Hester, an attorney working on behalf of city residents appealing the city's approval the 13-story building at 200 Renaissance, said the March 6 public hearing on the height of the Hyatt Hotel makes it clear that the city has continued to show disregard for its own regulations and strengthens the case against 200 Renaissance.

Hester and others in Zoning Ordinances Need Enforcement (Z.O.N.E.) argue that the public hearing on the building's height before the city Planning and Zoning Commission is meaningless window-dressing.

"On the one hand, you have the city violating its ordinances to allow the construction of a building, and you have the city on the other hand allowing the building to be built without any approval," Hester said.

He indicated that if the city ended up approving the conditional use for the Hyatt's height, the decision would be appealed.

Mayor Gene McGee, however, claims the March 6 hearing is an attempt by the city to rectify a mistake in the building's approval process and does not represent anything underhanded.

He said the city initially believed the Hyatt's approval followed all appropriate regulations.

"We're the ones that brought it up," said Mayor Gene McGee, referencing the city's recent request to Hyatt to go through the public hearing on the building's six-story height. "You can call it a mistake or oversight or a difference of opinion, but we still came forward in the right way."

Community Development Director Alan Hart declined to comment on the situation with Hyatt.

The hotel, currently under construction just east of Interstate 55 after being initially approved in 2006, has already been built to six stories, two more than the maximum allowed under regular zoning ordinances but permissible under the C-4 zone where the Hyatt is located if a conditional use permit is approved after a public hearing.

Such a hearing on the Hyatt was never held, although its site plan was approved by the Board of Aldermen.

According to Section 600.11-C of the city's zoning ordinance, "The approved site plan shall become the zoning requirements for the property involved. All construction, except for minor adjustments...shall be consistent with the approved site plan."

McGee said the city realized that the public hearing should have been held and is cleaning up the mistake.

"We are more open...than any city I know," he said. "Why would I have Alan Hart send out an e-mail about this?"

Hester, however, said the lack of a hearing on the Hyatt represents another example of the city ignoring its own rules to get the development it wants.

He added he wasn't sure if the Hyatt case could be officially incorporated into the appeal of the $60 million 200 Renaissance building, which was approved by the city in October of last year after two lengthy and heated public hearings.

"Legally, I'm not sure the appeals themselves can be consolidated into one. They are at least issue-related as much as both buildings are further evidence of spot zoning," he said.

Hester and others said they would have protested the Hyatt building's six-story height if a public hearing had been held before the site plan was approved.

Janet Clark, a member of Z.O.N.E., said that although the possibility is remote, ideally she would like the two top stories of the Hyatt to be removed. A deal, however, is still possible with local neighborhoods west of Highland Colony Parkway, where Renaissance is located between Old Agency Road and Steed Road, she said.

"I think the neighbors would be inclined to compromise on the Hyatt...if they would just come down on this wretched taller building (200 Renaissance)," she said.

Lisa Reppeto, an attorney at the Watkins Ludlam Winter and Stennis law firm in Jackson who is representing Hyatt, said she wasn't sure who initiated the new public hearing process.

"I think that's ridiculous," she said, referring to the idea of lowering the Hyatt's height. "Quite honestly, there should be nothing controversial at all about this petition. The project meets the standards and all the requirements of the city." 

She added that the hotel would oppose any attempt by Hester and Z.O.N.E. to combine the Hyatt's situation with the appeal of 200 Renaissance, which is currently pending in Madison County Circuit Court.

"We would certainly oppose any kind of consolidation of this matter with any other proceedings. They're different adjudications," she said.

The $230 million Renaissance development is set to open on March 19, and includes retail stores, restaurants and a grocery store.