June 18, 2014 10:54:24 AM
Aldermen unanimously passed planning items Tuesday that will allow national fast food chains Panda Express and Sonic to offer new or more services in Starkville.
First, the board approved five landscaping waivers for a Panda Express location at the main Miss. Highway 12 entrance to Walmart. The waivers, which grant exemptions to dimensional landscaping strip provisions set forth by the city's landscaping ordinance, were previously approved by the Starkville Tree Advisory Board in separate May and June meetings.
Aldermen also approved a request on consent to subdivide a .776 acre parcel from the Walmart Real Estate Business Trust property to create a separate C-2-zoned property for the American Chinese fast food chain's location.
Landscaping and plat plans included in the city's e-packet show the planned Panda Express site is located near the left-hand turn toward the store's automotive department and gas station.
It is unknown when work on the project will begin.
Aldermen also rubber-stamped a previous Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission decision to rezone a 711 Vine Street from multi-family residential (R-3) to a buffer district (B-1), thereby allowing a major expansion project at the adjacent Sonic location.
Sonic's legal counsel said the business is planning a major expansion project that will put the property, located at the corner of Miss. Highway 12 and Vine Street, physically on par with its newest location near Walmart. Specifically, the company will tear down the building, construct a new one with a drive-through lane and reduce the number of pull-up bays.
Area residents argued the expansion would increase traffic issues already plaguing Vine Street. The conditional use of the residential neighborhood has not changed, they said, since a similar proposal was denied in 2011.
Sonic's counsel argued that the Miss. Highway 12 business corridor is the true barometer of change in the area, saying that new businesses have brought with them significant remodeling, expansion and improvement projects. Additionally, the prior zoning request was submitted without the authorization of all the people and entities who own or control the property, Sonic's representatives said.
The planning commission previously approved the rezoning with several conditions, including a mandate saying Sonic could not construct a building on the property that abuts residential homes and another requiring fencing to separate the properties. Sonic must also shield its lights from the homes, according to previously approved zoning conditions.
Even though Sonic does not plan to build a facility on the property, a zoning change was needed because of parking needs and the chain's menus and ordering systems constitute food services, which were not allowed under the previous zoning.
The board unanimously denied the public appeal and approved the planning commission's recommendations with minor tweaks.
It is unknown when the Sonic expansion will begin.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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