December 6, 2017 10:38:21 AM
Starkville aldermen have rejected an appeal of the planning and zoning commission's denial to rezone two lots on Hickory Street from residential to commercial properties.
In November the commission received a request from Mitchner Rentals, LLC, and Danielle V. Kelly to rezone the lots, located at 2003 and 2005 Hickory St., from R-1 single-family residential to C-2 general business. The lots contain two houses among a strip of eight in Green Oaks that sit along Highway 12. Located on the southeast side of the subdivision, they are directly adjacent to a Chevron convenience station on Highway 12 by the Avenue of Patriots.
Commissioners voted 5-1 against the zoning request last month.
On Tuesday, aldermen voted 6-1, with Ward 4's Jason Walker opposing due to a specific piece of language in the motion, to deny the request.
In order to change zoning, petitioners must prove an error in the original zoning or a substantial change in the character of the area and a public need for a change. A report city staff submitted to commissioners said there was no error in the zoning. The report notes the recent growth in businesses west of Louisville Street along Highway 12, such as the AT&T store, Cellular South store and Tractor Supply in 2011; Barnes Crossing Auto Sales, Dollar Tree, Kroger expansion and Panda Express in 2014; and Academy Sports that opened earlier this year, as potential character changes in the area.
During a public hearing, attorney Johnny Moore, representing the petitioners, said the commercial growth in the areas surrounding Green Oaks since the subdivision was built have constituted a change in character.
Moore also contended Green Oaks is a subdivision, which is not necessarily a neighborhood, after Ward 6 Aldermen Roy A. Perkins challenged the petitioners to prove a change in character of the neighborhood. He said the neighborhood could be broader than Green Oaks itself.
"The board's got to define what a neighborhood is," Moore said. "That's the first step. A neighborhood is not a subdivision. You can't define that neighborhood as strictly that subdivision or we'd never change anything in Starkville -- ever."
Moore further argued a public need exists for the rezoning, referencing a consumer spending study that found Starkville is losing millions of dollars per year in spending to other cities.
Several Green Oaks residents spoke against the appeal during a public hearing before aldermen voted.
One resident, Clark Roman, said Green Oaks is the "poster board for neighborhoods" in Starkville.
"Sometimes in life you have to draw a line in the sand," he said. "You have to stand up and say it's not always about the money. These people are not bad people, but they only see the bottom line. They don't see the stuff in the middle -- the importance of the neighborhood, how important to the city we are, what we do for the neighborhood. They don't see that."
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver disputed Moore's claims.
"If somebody says the words 'Green Oaks,' do you think of Alan Body Shop?" Carver asked. "If somebody says 'Green Oaks' do you think of Walmart or Academy Sports? But when I think of the Cotton District, it's a lot of mixed retail and it's a lot harder to define.
"When I think of Longmeadow, it's very easy to define the neighborhood," Carver continued. "When I think of Greenbriar, it's easy to define the neighborhood. When I think of Green Oaks, I think this is an easy case."
Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller said the city needs more middle class housing, in response to Moore's claim that the city needs more commercial space.
"I believe Green Oaks is the heart and soul of middle class housing in the city of Starkville," Miller said. "So if we decide tonight that there is a change in the character of the neighborhood, which I do think there is, I think there will be a domino effect and we will completely kill and begin to remove what we have as access to middle class housing in Starkville."
Walker, who voted against the motion, said he only did so because of language in the motion that defined Green Oaks as a neighborhood. He asked city attorney Chris Latimer if the state Supreme Court has set forth a definition for neighborhoods. After learning they have not, Walker said he was reluctant to vote for the specific motion defining Green Oaks as a neighborhood.
"I wholeheartedly believe the people in the Green Oaks subdivision believe that is their neighborhood," Walker said. "Putting a definition on that, saying that in and of itself is the neighborhood -- I might choose to look at that a little more broadly.
"There's a lot of desire for that to be commercial," Walker continued. "But I believe the change in character of the overall neighborhood, which in my mind still extends beyond the limits of the subdivision plat -- there hasn't been significant change to do that."
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