Board places sidewalk, landscaping ordinances under microscope

October 2, 2013 9:52:35 AM

Carl Smith - [email protected]


Starkville aldermen unanimously tasked Community Developer William Snowden with reviewing the city's sidewalk and landscaping ordinances after two representatives --Ward 2's Lisa Wynn and Ward 3's David Little -- said the rules place unfair, economic development-prohibiting burdens on property owners. 


Snowden will present his report and any recommended changes to the board during its Dec. 3 meeting. 


Established under the Dan Camp administration, the sidewalk ordinance originally required walkways be included with new development and re-development projects, including commercial and residential properties. The previous board of aldermen amended the ordinance by narrowing the requirement to the core areas of Starkville and creating a variance process. 


The previous board also passed a new version of the city's landscaping ordinance earlier this year. Opponents alluded multiple times Tuesday to a requirement for trees and landscape islands within parking lots. 


While Wynn and Little cited numerous developers' demands to ease restrictions, the board did not set scope or expectations for the report. 


"Since my tenure in office I've had the opportunity to meet several developers...there were two issues that were present in every conversation: (landscape) and sidewalk ordinances. I, however, fully support both, and our city has made great measures in walkability and (Americans with Disability Act-mandated improvements)," Wynn said while reading from a prepared statement before making her motion. "It is imperative that we draw new families and businesses to an attractive community. As a city, we are competing with many other cities for new businesses...our ordinances should provide, and be reflective of, the standards our citizens find acceptable without being viewed as restrictive by the development community." 


"The taxpayers aren't paying for our...sidewalks, it's the developers. Same thing on the landscaping," Little added during discussions. "If we want sidewalks and infrastructure, we need to put that on the forefront ourselves, not pushing that back on the taxpayers. I'm not against sidewalks. I'm not against landscaping. But it needs to be reasonable. (A review is) not saying we're going to throw the baby out with the bathwater." 


Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, who agreed with Little's suggestion that the board review other city ordinances, asked why landscaping and sidewalk regulations were singled out without the board setting a goal for its examination. He also suggested the city ask a peer community or outside entity to examine the ordinances. 


"The thing that makes us more economically viable in the long term and what really needs to happen is a comprehensive review of our subdivision regulations. Those have not been updated since 1969," Walker said. "If that's the intent, I'm certainly willing what's in the best interest of the citizens. We cannot let lobbyists dictate policy." 


"I am all for promoting walkability, bike-ability and the overall landscaping appeal in this community, however, I also do not believe there is such a thing as a perfect ordinance," Mayor Parker Wiseman said. "Ordinances are fluid documents. As long as you maintain long-term policy objectives, then there's not necessarily a cause for alarm when that ordinance changes." 




Wynn's motion added at the table, absent from published agendas 


The review was a last-minute addition to Tuesday's agenda, as an advance copy of the board's business published Friday lacked the request. 


Rumors circulated on social media outlets about its potential addition, but city officials could not confirm if it would be added before the meeting. 


This is the second time the board has tacked on a significant item to its agenda at the table: An agenda item dealing with former Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill's termination was also absent in July when the board faced an upcoming deadline to deal with Wiseman's veto of the matter. 


Last month, aldermen also attempted to move up a pay raise for both the board and mayor by placing it on the Sept. 17 consent agenda, which is a list of items passed together in one motion and rarely discussed. In that meeting, Walker removed the item and placed it on the regular agenda, thereby opening the floor for debate. Both he and Little took exception to the matter since it was placed on that meeting's consent agenda with little advance warning. 


"It's certainly not as clean (as adding agenda items in a timely manner for public inspection and dissemination)," Wiseman said. "I prefer agenda items being in at their latest mid-day Friday (before Tuesday meetings)." 


In previous meetings, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins took fellow aldermen and city officials to task for adding agenda items late or at the table. No alderman levied a complaint about the timeliness of Wynn's motion Tuesday.

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch