STARKVILLE — With a 4 to 3 vote Tuesday night, the Starkville Board of Aldermen approved amendments to the city”s sidewalk ordinance, which exempt four streets from future sidewalk construction requirements.
The exemptions apply to Pollard Road, Miley Drive, Industrial Park Road between Pollard Road and Miley Drive, and Airport Road between Pollard Road and Miley Drive. The move establishes an industrial quadrant where sidewalks wouldn”t be required with new construction or when existing businesses make significant improvements to their properties.
Mayor Parker Wiseman, however, vowed to veto the amendments “as soon as I can get it written.” He hoped to issue the veto by the end of the week.
The board would need a two-thirds vote, or five members, regardless of the number of aldermen present, to override Wiseman”s veto.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker, Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn Sr. voted in favor of the amendments Tuesday, while Ward 2 Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey and Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas were opposed.
Approximately 20 people attended a public hearing on the amendments prior to the vote, including Rudy Johnson, director of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, located on newly exempt Miley Drive. The GTPDD wants to build a new $1.6 million office building, in which a senior center would be located, but would have to build a $25,000 sidewalk with the structure to comply with the sidewalk ordinance. Johnson has threatened to move the GTPDD out of Starkville if he has to build the sidewalk and spoke Tuesday night at the public hearing.
“The way I see it, the industrial park is there for job creation and economic development, and that”s what I plan to do,” Johnson said. “With the economic times the way they are, with us being able to build this building, it”s going to put over $700,000 in this community with jobs (to construct the facility).”
If the GTPDD does construct the building, Johnson says the business has another project in the works which would create another 20 jobs. Additionally, the GTPDD”s payroll is $5.1 million, but he hopes to one day increase it to $7.5 million.
“That”s a lot of money for this community to be fighting over a $25,000 sidewalk,” Johnson said.
Johnson”s main argument against the sidewalk construction has been the lack of pedestrians in the area around the GTPDD. Plus, none of the properties adjacent to the GTPDD have sidewalks, so the city would be requiring the business to build a “sidewalk to nowhere,” Johnson has said.
“I”ll make a deal with you,” Johnson told aldermen Tuesday. “I”ll get my board (of directors) to pass a resolution stating that we will build a sidewalk … if we get a connecting sidewalk to build it to because we want to move forward with this project.”
Several senior citizens attended the meeting, including 72-year-old Jacky Dorsey, who supported Johnson, the GTPDD and the sidewalk ordinance amendments.
“If there were adjacent sidewalks to that place, I would say ”Yes, put it in,”” Dorsey said. “But we all know that … if I live to be 95, there won”t be any (adjacent sidewalks) because it”s already developed out and it”s utterly ridiculous for anybody in this economy to waste the money that we”re talking about wasting just because we”ve got an ordinance.”
After the meeting, Johnson commended Carver for proposing the ordinance amendments.
“They know that a mistake has been made with the (original provisions of the ordinance), but Ben did a good job,” Johnson said. “In all the papers, it”s all about Rudy Johnson, but this isn”t about Rudy. If something is wrong, you fix it. That”s what this is about. If you don”t stand up for something, you”ll fall for anything.”
“Industrial parks weren”t created for sidewalks,” he added later. “They were created for economic development and jobs, and that”s what we”re trying to do.”
Aldermen also heard from opponents of the exemptions. Several members of the city”s transportation committee spoke out against the amendments, saying they are working on a variance process which would allow builders to avoid sidewalk construction if it would cause an undue financial hardship or if topographical features make the task impossible.
“Given our broad land-use policies and lack of land-use planning at present in the city, the transportation committee cannot offer support for creating exclusionary zones,” transportation committee chairman Jim Gafford said. “However, allowing for variances to the ordinance to be granted where it would be burdensome to a development to do otherwise is sound policy. No objectively reasoned burden has been established by any development in the proposed exclusionary zone to date.”
Chris Gottbrath was one of several committee members who was opposed to the amendments. Industrial Park Road is a connector between residential areas on Lynn Lane and Highway 12, he said, and people tend to walk or ride bicycles to get to the busy highway.
“I think people”s safety is important and having a sidewalk there will aid in safety,” Gottbrath said. “I don”t think the lack of a sidewalk is going to keep people from walking there. They”re going to walk where they need to walk and it puts them at risk.”
Fellow committee member Dr. Bethany Stich said she was able to make contact with 15 of the 27 existing businesses in the exclusionary zone over the holidays. Of the 12 business that replied, 10 reported sightings of pedestrians or cyclists in the area, Stich said.
Starkville In Motion member Devon Brenner also said she was opposed to the exemptions. If the city exempts certain streets from sidewalk construction requirements, other land owners and builders might come to the city and say they don”t want to build a sidewalk either, Brenner said.
Aldermen received one such request during the meeting.
Charles Scarborough, who owns land on Spruill Industrial Park Road, adjacent to the city”s Sportsplex, said he wants his property to be included in the exclusionary zone. Scarborough said the city is showing “blatant discrimination” by not exempting his property.
“I want to be excluded also,” Scarborough said. “I”m in the same location and the zoning is the same.”
Aldermen would have needed to hold another public hearing if they wanted to include Scarborough”s property among the exempted industrial quadrant.
Ward 2 Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk said she was “disheartened” by the whole exemption process, saying people are putting local seniors at the middle of a political battle. She also said the board was “governing on the fly.”
“We are going to see more of these exemption requests if we go down this path,” Sistrunk said.