May 2, 2013 10:12:46 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Is Starkville a business-friendly community? It depends on which of the mayoral candidates you ask.
Mayor Parker Wiseman and Starkville Parks Commission Chairman Dan Moreland verbally sparred over economic issues and the city's growth regulations during the Starkville High School-sponsored mayoral debate Tuesday at the Greensboro Center.
Wiseman rebuffed Moreland numerous times over what the SPC chairman called stringent development regulations that make the city unfriendly to development. Moreland said developers are looking elsewhere to start businesses because of sidewalk regulations, while Wiseman touted a record of regulatory reform that has made Starkville more business friendly.
The SPC commissioner specifically referred to one business that decided to open up shop elsewhere due to sidewalk requirements. He did not specifically name the development or developer.
"First of all, we have to start deregulating some restrictions on buildings," Moreland told the Greensboro Center crowd when addressing the debate's second question. "Sidewalks are necessary... but two miles out on Highway 25? We lost that (development) because of two sidewalks. The man folded up his briefcase and went to Columbus. We've lost two restaurants; we've lost a motel, specifically because of regulations. We need to say, 'What can I do to help you to get your business open in Starkville' rather than 'What can we do to hinder you?'
"When we lost that business, the ad valorem that man was going to pay, it's going to be sent directly to you," he added.
Wiseman countered Moreland, saying he has upheld his vision for growth during his term and ensured properties develop in an orderly manner so they reach their highest and best uses. Flexible street policies, streamlined condominium rules and form-based codes have cut through red tape surrounding development, he said.
"We have amended the sidewalk process, which was passed in a previous administration, twice. It now has a variance process; it has a sidewalk development area which makes the requirement apply to the walkable core of the community," Wiseman said. "Dan, if you would familiarize yourself with the ordinance, I think you would like it."
Moreland previously claimed the strict regulations make Starkville "the No. 2 most anti-business city in the state," without revealing the source of the claim.
"If you talk to some of the engineers in Starkville, you get a horror story," Moreland said. "It's getting worse."
Wiseman said Moreland was speaking in generalities with his claims. The incumbent also touted the city's record on new businesses, saying Starkville saw more than 100 new endeavors during his administration.
"I'd urge you to find another city this size with a record that's as good as that," Wiseman said.
The information Wiseman cited was not available from the city when he sought it, Moreland said. He also said lateral transfers - businesses sold to new owners - do not count as new developments.
"I don't know where the mayor got his information," he said. "We went up and tried to get it and was told their computers wouldn't allow that to happen and we were denied."
Wiseman was quick to counter that claim.
"Dan, that figure comes from an audit done in 2011. I'll have it available for you if you'd like to come back and get it," Wiseman said. "You talk a whole lot about eliminating regulations... If you could, get a little more specific and tell this community what regulations you'd like to eliminate. We can gut all of them and become the payday lending capital of the world. That's not my vision for the city of Starkville. Dan, we need to know what is your vision for the city of Starkville."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch