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Starkville residents call form-based codes confusing


David Miller



With each public hearing, Starkville's rezoning plans for downtown and corridors to Mississippi State University gain more public interest.  


Developers such as Jeremy Tabor have lauded the city's efforts. Property owners and residents such as Mark Guyton and Alvin Turner say the plans are confusing.  


Tuesday, the Starkville Board of Aldermen had its second public hearing to rezone areas of Highway 182, Main Street and Russell Street to encourage mixed-use development.  


Nathan Norris, of planning group Placemakers, was on hand to answer questions about the "form-based codes." Norris said, from a general public perspective, the major change is regulating where parking occurs.  


In certain areas of the proposed rezoned areas, parking in new developments would not be allowed on the front of the property. Additionally, the square-footage of property per each parking spot would increase, lessening the development burden.  


One person was quick to challenge the notion that less parking would be beneficial, despite the aesthetic value, saying: "If I can't find a place to park, I'm going somewhere else. That's just a comment. Digest that." 


Turner, who regularly attends board meetings, called the 36-page document confusing. 


"To a common person with just a 12th-grade education, it's confusing," Turner said. "It's like trying to put a puzzle together." 


Another resident said, "He's right, it is confusing" before leaving the board room. 


Another issue arose over the Cotton District's exclusion from the rezoning -- despite directly connecting to MSU -- and what the process would be should developers want to build there under new zoning requirements. Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said the original plan was to include only the parcels that touch the corridors and that most development in the Cotton District -- like multistory development -- already takes place.  


City Attorney Chris Latimer said any zoning change request would have to go through the standard process of proving significant change in the area warranted rezoning.  


The new "transect" districts will include a 6-foot minimum setback to allow developers to add more density to the site and help with price demands, Dumas said. The rezoning would also allow for shared public spaces in public right of ways -- like balconies -- which Dumas said would be a great amenity. 




Another public hearing on land-use chart 


The board also had another public hearing to repeal and replace its land-use chart, which was condensed from 11 pages to one. No revisions were made to the chart heading into the board meeting, though the board elected to grant payday lending businesses permitted use in manufacturing zones.  


Under the current document, new payday loan business would be granted conditional use -- at the discretion of the board -- in manufacturing zones. Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker said payday lenders should be able to build in the zone by right and existing businesses -- mostly on Highway 12 -- should have the right to expand.  


"The law is that you can concentrate businesses or disperse them, but what concerns me is with it only being conditional and M-1 (manufacturing), you could theoretically be zoning them out of the city and that would likely violate the law," Latimer said. "The safest thing to do legally to have a little wiggle room is to switch conditional use in M-1 to permitted." 


The chart itself is far less convoluted than the form-based codes document, generalizing categories to create less confusion. The document also encourages pocket parks and differentiates among parks, sportsplexes, bowling alleys and skating rinks. Live-work buildings and accessory dwelling units are also defined. 


The board will have another round of public hearings at its Jan. 17 meeting.




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