Starkville aldermen could approve the first step needed to change the city’s landscaping ordinance tonight by scheduling a public hearing on revisions later this month.
A lone agenda item would set the first of at least two public hearings for July 15, but the document states no potential changes for the city ordinance.
Three officials — Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker, Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins — are listed as contacts for the item, but Perkins did not return a call Monday, Maynard was out of town and Walker said he was unaware of any alderman’s intent to make specific changes.
Possible changes could include adjustments to the city’s dimensional requirements for grass stripping and canopy trees as the board previously waived similar requirements for Kroger’s proposed multi-million dollar renovation project and for a Panda Express location at the primary Walmart entrance on Highway 12 in May and June, respectively.
Specifically, aldermen approved the grocery store chain’s waiver because company officials said it would not have been able to create enough parking spaces while additionally creating 6-foot grass strips required by the rules, Joe Bell, Kroger’s manager of marketing and public affairs for the company’s Delta division, said in May.
Kroger’s renovation would make it the third-largest location in the state, create an additional 60 jobs and expand the store’s whole foods, deli and pharmacy, Bell said.
The business’ parking lot would also see significant improvements as the business would plant about 80 canopy trees, an action the board previously approved.
Starkville’s Tree Advisory Board previously deadlocked on the Kroger exemption with a 2-2 vote. One member abstained from the vote.
Panda Express representatives were also granted a similar waiver from dimensional landscaping strip provisions that were previously approved by the Tree Advisory Board.
Starkville aldermen unanimously approved reviews of the city’s landscaping and sidewalk ordinances after Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn and Ward 3 Alderman David Little said they place unfair, economic development-prohibitive burdens upon developers.
The report was due in February but delayed after former Community Developer William Snowden resigned from his post last year due to health reasons.
“As a city, we are competing with many other cities for new businesses…and our ordinances should provide and be reflective of the standards our citizens find acceptable without being viewed as restrictive by the development community,” Wynn said last fall before aldermen approved the reviews.
After Snowden’s departure, Walker attempted to create a seven-person review committee comprised of aldermen, developers and members of the Tree Advisory Board, Starkville in Motion and the city’s transportation committee, but that motion was easily defeated at the board table.
Wynn accused Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory of using her position to politically lobby for the review committee without backing from Partnership trustees, but GSDP Executive Committee Chairman Richard Hilton later said the board did support a letter issued by Gregory in favor of the proposal.
The Ward 2 alderman took Gregory, who was absent from the November meeting at that time, to task because her letter did not feature signatures from other executive members, even though the GSDP committee previously authorized Gregory to write the letter in a prior board meeting.
“If Mr. Hilton will issue a statement citing that, I will be more than happy to ‘woman-up’ and apologize to you and the Partnership, but until then, my letter that I read tonight will stand,” Wynn said to Gregory in November.
Wynn has yet to publicly apologize to Gregory at the board table.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch