Article Comment 

Informal approval forced city's hand with Richardson's development

 

Carl Smith

 

Former Community Developer William Snowden OK'd preliminary plans for Clayton Richardson's Shaggy Hound development before he purchased property adjacent to Starkville High School and began the city's formal development review process, Mayor Parker Wiseman confirmed Wednesday. 

 

Aldermen voted behind closed doors Tuesday to accept Richardson's site plan for the Shaggy Hound development, which will sit across from SHS's front doors and carpool area, and directed city staff to issue construction-facilitating permits once city mandated conditions are met with a driveway island proposal. 

 

Ward 3 Alderman David Little moved Richardson's public appearance to executive session before the vote, citing potential litigation against the city. It is believed Snowden's informal approval could have led to a lawsuit against the city. 

 

It is unknown when Snowden made his preliminary approval, but he resigned his position in December.  

 

After the departure, numerous department heads comprising the city's Design Review Committee, including City Engineer Edward Kemp, made several suggestions and demands in January to assist Richardson in approving his site plan.  

 

City staff members had issues with four access points - two were planned for Louisville Street, while the others would face SHS on Yellow Jacket Drive - and how ingress and egress areas would affect traffic at SHS. 

 

Kemp's Jan. 9 recommendations totaled 23 comments - the most of any department head participating in the review - ranging across a variety of pre- and post-development topics. 

 

When asked for documents associated with the conditions approved by the board, city staff provided emails of comments sent by review committee members on March 31. None of those emails came from Kemp.  

 

Aldermen placed the city engineer a six-month probationary period after the two-hour executive session. Kemp, City Planner Buddy Sanders and Richardson's team were seen entering and exiting the closed-door meeting on multiple occasions. 

 

The board made the move with a 5-2 vote, with Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver and Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker opposing the matter. 

 

"(Snowden) signed off on him having four access points on the property, which would serve as entrances and exits. When the site plan was done later on, the city staff at the time thought the access points created a safety issue," Wiseman said. "This is a case of the concept being approved by a different professional in place than when it went through the site planning process. Professionals see many issues differently. 

 

"Potential litigation was definitely an issue driving the city's action Tuesday," he added. 

 

Wiseman said he did not support the board's action against Kemp, and the city engineer was unavailable for comment Wednesday. 

 

The project will still have four points of ingress and egress, but city officials said the island design will create a right-in, right-out turning lane to help relieve potential traffic problems. 

 

Starkville School District Superintendent Lewis Holloway said SHS officials should be able to block the road during morning and afternoon carpool times. 

 

Holloway said he met numerous times with city officials and developers about the project and expressed concerns over possible curb-cut entrances at the property. A proposed 5-foot-deep water retention pond previously associated with the project also drew his ire. 

 

"That's unsightly, but it was our understanding that Snowden approved it. It was a frustrating process," he said. 

 

A call to Richardson for insight into his project went unreturned. City documents show he is planning two structures in the development: a smaller one for the Shaggy Hound dog grooming and daycare center facing SHS, and another, larger structure for retail or office space that will face Louisville Street. 

 

Shaggy Hound currently operates at 903 Louisville St., according to its website. 

 

Oktibbeha County Engineer Clyde Pritchard, whose private firm is handling a portion of the project planning, declined to comment about the development Wednesday out of respect for his client. 

 

City officials confirmed receiving drawings for the Shaggy Hound building permit Friday, but the Community Development Department has yet to receive permit drawings for the office building. Drawings for and analysis of a proposed water retention pond were received by the city in February. 

 

"I want to make it clear that the city of Starkville is open for business, and we welcome all business into our community, including retail development," said Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins after Tuesday's executive session motions were read aloud. 

 

Past reports show Richardson has a history of criticizing various city ordinances. In 2009, he targeted the city's storm water and sidewalk rules, saying the regulations were too strict and scaring off developers. Richardson would even go on to ask the city's transportation committee to rescind the sidewalk ordinance, a move only aldermen could accomplish. 

 

Before the current board approved a review process of both ordinances last year, Richardson again lamented sidewalk and landscaping rules, saying his potential developments could cost almost $150,000 due to the two ordinances. 

 

Aldermen reinstated Kemp's position as a department head in January. Department heads are employees who serve at the will and pleasure of the board, meaning they can be fired with a majority vote. 

 

Chief Administrative Officer Taylor Adams, as tasked by the board, will monitor Kemp's job performance and report his findings back to aldermen. The probationary period began immediately after the vote. 

 

Aldermen gave no reasoning behind the move. 

 

The city has experienced significant turnover in key positions since aldermen took over in July. Since then, three department heads - former CAO Lynn Spruill, police Chief David Lindley and Snowden - exited their posts. Spruill was fired by the board shortly after assuming office, while Lindley announced his retirement and Snowden resigned after experiencing medical issues. 

 

Aldermen also placed Personnel Director Randy Boyd and Sanitation and Environmental Services Director Emma Gandy on probation this term, while Lindley was placed on administrative leave before tendering his retirement letter. 

 

Former Municipal Court Clerk Debra Wood quit her job last year after aldermen gave her the option to resign or face termination.

 

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch

 

 

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