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Lynn Spruill: New development along Russell Street

 

Lynn Spruill

 

 

This has been a busy construction summer for Starkville. It has been so busy that it really doesn't feel as though there has been the normal summer slowdown of either traffic or activity. There are small municipal projects all over town and even more large private projects. 

 

The most concentrated and noticeable of these are those shaping a new core for Starkville. They are predictably located near the MSU campus. 

 

University Drive is seeing continued activity alongside City Bagel where the Mayor of the Cotton District and his progeny are building his signature classic residential construction. There is also the promise of new construction on the other side of City Bagel where Tabor has been approved to build a mixed-use development. These projects continue the ongoing re-gentrification University Drive has experienced since Mayor Dan started remaking the Cotton District. 

 

That said, the most strikingly visible mark in Starkville construction is taking place along Russell Street. 

 

These projects are designed differently and are the direct result of zoning the previous board of aldermen approved and championed. Alderman Jeremiah Dumas pushed for and got the support of his fellow aldermen for what are known as "T" districts. 

 

His forward-thinking approach to our growth and development has resulted in structures that are street-oriented and pedestrian-friendly. They relate to the street in ways that are not pushed back and separated by parking lots, but are immediately adjacent and accessible. 

 

They have the urban feel usually reserved for a downtown area. They promote walking and interaction along what is a commercial and residential mixed-use development. Density is accommodated encouraging public transit and pedestrian interaction. 

 

On the way to my latest sweet-tooth indulgence at Local Culture recently, I was struck by the project underway at the old Cohern Grocery Store property. For those who don't go that far back in Starkville's history, it was the former site of the Palmer Home Thrift Store. It occupies a large, prominent property along Russell Street. 

 

I wish I could say the project was a wonderful addition to the new vision for that area. While I love it is being built in an urban style, I have to confess I deplore the design. I am sure the developers have met the criteria required of them by the city and maybe they think it attractive, but the look is sparse and the result is barren and characterless. 

 

Unfortunately, with the zoning for the "T" Districts, the city never felt there was a public will to adopt design standards that would promote the use of particular materials or require design approval before building permits were issued. 

 

There is a measure of beauty you always hope will accompany new development, particularly when you are creating a sense of place. Sadly this project feels very immediate and opportunistic. It doesn't contribute to a sense of place or provide a feel of lasting value. 

 

Travel a bit farther down the road and there is another project that does feel much more invested in the community. It sits across from the Cotton Mill and is closer to campus. It promotes the sense that it wants to be a permanent part of the community not just a short-term commercial success.  

 

Since this is potentially an expansion of downtown, it would behoove us to begin to think of what type of design criteria we might adopt to encourage developers to go the extra step of contributing to our long-term community's sense of place.  

 

The Highway 12 entrance to campus at Russell Street promises to become the "Main Street" into that alternative downtown particularly for those who are MSU-centric. MDOT has been working feverishly on the project where Highway 12 and Russell Street intersect. The end result appears to be a more attractive and user friendly connection to campus. 

 

Starkville, MDOT, Oktibbeha County and MSU have rallied together to further the development of The Mill area. Let's not squander this critical development time and effort by approving a hodge-podge of construction projects.  

 

Let's not just be satisfied that something is being built. Let's make this private sector demand for development more about quality than about quantity. 

 

Lynn Spruill, a former commercial airline pilot, elected official and city administrator owns and manages Spruill Property Management in Starkville. Her email address is [email protected]

 

 

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