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Planners reject controversial zoning change


Tim Pratt



The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday voted against a developer''s request to rezone 4.98 acres off Yellow Jacket Drive.  


The 5-1 decision, during which only commission member John Moore voted in favor of the rezoning request, came after nearly two dozen residents of the Pleasant Acres subdivision, which neighbors the property, showed up in opposition to the change.  


Five homeowners spoke out against the request, with most arguing against City Planner Ben Griffith''s assertion that the area surrounding the property has seen a significant enough change recently to warrant the rezoning.  


The site, referred to by planners as the Templeton property, is located southeast of the intersection of Yellow Jacket Drive and Eckford Drive.  


Developer Frank Brewer in April asked the city to rezone the property from R-1 single-family residential to R-3A single-family medium density so he could fit more homes on the site. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the request, saying the surrounding area had changed in recent years, though it ultimately failed 4-3 when voted on by the city''s Board of Aldermen. The Planning and Zoning Commission serves in an advisory capacity to the Board of Aldermen.  


Brewer returned to the Planning and Zoning Commission in August with a request to rezone the property from R-1 to R-3 multi-family, which is less restrictive than the R-3A district and would have allowed multi-family units. Planners had told Brewer he couldn''t request the R-3A district again within a year of his April request, so he asked for the change from R-1 to R-3, even though he still planned to build single-family detached homes on the property.  


The Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the August request, and the issue didn''t go before the Board of Aldermen. 


Brewer and attorney Johnny Moore were back in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday to request a change from R-1 to R-3A because the city''s legal counsel recently determined developers actually could request the same zoning change within a year of the previous attempt, contrary to what Brewer previously was told by city staff. 


The catch for Brewer, however, came when City Attorney Chris Latimer told planners they would have to make their determination on whether or not change has occurred in the area surrounding the property based solely on the development that has taken place since April, when Brewer first requested the R-1 to R-3A zoning change. Latimer advised planners only to look at changes over the past six months, and not those which have occurred over the past several years.  


Given the downturn in the housing market, not much building has occurred in the area surrounding the property over the past six months, many residents argued, let alone enough to usher in medium-density housing. Pleasant Acres is zoned R-1, which only allows four homes per acre, while a R-3A zone would allow up to eight units per acre.  


Planners agreed with the residents and voted against the request to recommend approval of the rezoning to the city''s Board of Aldermen.  


"I have difficulty finding there was enough change (in the last six months) to warrant this," planning commission member Jerry Emison said of the rezoning request. 


Johnny Moore, however, cited another one of Brewer''s developments on Academy Road as a change in the area. 


"But that''s a half-mile away," Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Dora Herring countered.  


Griffith also cited the rezonings of three properties in the vicinity since 2007. The land at the southwestern corner of South Montgomery Street and Lynn Lane was rezoned from R-1 to R-3 for the Maison de Ville subdivision; property at the intersection of Yellow Jacket Drive and South Montgomery Street was rezoned from a R-3 to a R-5 multi-family, high density district; and land at the northeastern corner of Yellow Jacket Drive and Eckford Drive was rezoned from R-3 to C-2 general business. 


"There''s three properties that have had a change in that area since 2007," Johnny Moore said to the Planning and Zoning Commission in August. He and Griffith re-emphasized the point Tuesday. 


But Pleasant Acres residents argued none of the properties were in the same "neighborhood" as the land proposed for a rezoning. Each of the previously rezoned properties are at least two blocks away from the land rejected for a zoning change Tuesday night. 


Herring summed up the commission''s feelings Tuesday night near the end of a two-hour public hearing.  


"I do not think the changes that have occurred (in the area) even affect this property," Herring said.




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