January 15, 2013 10:52:46 AM
When Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman encounters criticism of the city's ambitious, contentious sidewalk ordinance, he said he is comforted by the story of the Mississippi four-lane highway program.
In 1987, state lawmakers set a goal to have a four-line highway within 30 miles or 30 minutes of every resident in the state. They began building segments of four-lane roads in every part of the state.
"The state was a long way from that at the time," Wiseman said. "And there were a lot of people that thought this policy didn't make sense, because they just didn't see how that would ever connect."
Over time, the state stuck with the program. Today, Wiseman says, every part of the state is accessible by four-lane highways. Wiseman said it's that type of long view policy the city must adhere to in order to see rewards from a sidewalk network.
"The highway program is something that took 25 years though," he said. "We don't have to wait 25 years to reap the benefits of our sidewalk ordinance, you can reap direct benefits from just the improvements over the last four years."
Starkville's sidewalk ordinance was drafted and adopted in 2009 by the previous administration, and required sidewalks be included with all new development and re-development projects, including both commercial and residential.
Since then, Wiseman and the current board of aldermen have helped refine the ordinance. A sidewalk development area was added by an amendment that removed the requirement from the entire city and limited it to the walk-able core of the city.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas helped craft some of the language for the development area amendment. Dumas is a huge proponent for the ordinance, but said he knows there are a lot of people who think the requirements are too stringent.
Even so, over the last four years, the city has added more than two and a half miles of new sidewalks.
"This is a well-written document, as is," Dumas said. "We had a committee of transportation-minded individuals who wrote this up, and that goes back to the previous administration. The same committee helped us work through the process of finding this development area."
The changes to the ordinance have hardly stemmed criticism, however. In the view of some businessmen, the sidewalk ordinance is a notable example of how the current administration has implemented measures that hurt business.
One of that group, local businessman Dan Moreland, announced his bid for mayor earlier this month. Wiseman announced he will run for a second term as mayor Monday.
Moreland has pointed out the sidewalk ordinance specifically in his platform for mayor, and has vowed to repeal the current ordinance in favor of one with fewer regulations.
"Sidewalks to nowhere," is the rallying cry for opponents to the sidewalk ordinance, and Dumas said he recognized the fact that in some places, a developer might be required to put in a sidewalk that doesn't connect anywhere.
But he said connectivity is an issue that will be addressed over time, as a sidewalk network develops, again appealing for people to take a long view of the policy.
For Dumas, the ordinance is about providing access to all parts of the city to a very diverse population. It might seem unrealistic for anyone who has a car to think about getting around without one, he said, but there is a large demographic in Starkville that deals with this daily.
"Those people need to get their services," said Dumas, who said he will not seek reelection. "They need groceries. They need to go to the post office and the bank. Transportation is just not car-centric anymore, I am a firm believer that the areas included are appropriate. As part of doing business with the city of Starkville, you have to build your roads up to standard, you have to meet building code and you have to provide access for pedestrians. Period."
But Moreland said he thinks that kind of business approach has hurt the city's image. He said he has had several Starkville business owners tell him that they would like to renovate, but cannot because of the added financial burden a sidewalk would entail.
For businesses looking to relocate in Starkville, the ordinance can be a deterrent too, according to Moreland, who believes the city has earned a reputation for being anti-business.
"To require someone to build a sidewalk before they even open their doors is ridiculous," he said. "And that might decide whether or not someone even goes into business in Starkville."
Moreland said he agrees with Dumas on one point: Sidewalks are a necessary part of a budding community, and said he had no issue with a sidewalk ordinance in itself.
"We just need some common sense to go along with the ordinance," he said.
Dumas said he is perfectly fine with the ordinance in its current form and thinks as sidewalk infrastructure increases, so will the city's quality of life. Quality of life, he said, is not something businesses, especially businesses investing large sums of money, overlook in a community.
"These (companies) are coming from all over the world, all over the country, and they want a diverse, creative class-type quality of life," Dumas said. "Walk-ability is key to that. We have proof: If you take away regulations passed in the last two terms, you will get more Highway 182 and Highway 12, roads that are dominated by the vehicle, are extremely unsafe for pedestrians and a create a (generic appearance) that looks like Anywhere USA."