Starkville leaders say they’ll lean on public input as a guidepost for its upcoming comprehensive plan after numerous residents said Thursday they feel like they were left out of the process.
Many of the almost 30 attendees present at the first of Thursday’s two public input sessions criticized the second draft of the plan authored by the Walker Collaborative, saying property owners were not alerted to the city’s planning efforts.
Residents also expressed concerns about future development in the west, possible annexation attempts to the east and how property values would be affected if zoning changes are implemented.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said the city will “take adequate time to hear all public feedback” expressed in the process and revise the document accordingly, and Community Development Director Buddy Sanders confirmed additional public input sessions will be held in the future.
The entire process now, Wiseman said, could take four to six weeks before it yields a finished document.
“Based on where we are now, we need to make additional revisions,” he said. “The ideal scenario is we’re drafting and revising based on the feedback we hear. By the time it gets in front of the board, we’ll have the wrinkles ironed out from these public input sessions. Hopefully, we’ll get the most well-rounded document possible before our board. We take the time needed to get it into the best form possible.”
From the outset of Thursday’s meeting, residents took issue with the plan’s previous suggestion of annexing the area around Mississippi State University. Residents didn’t oppose the idea outright but said the draft’s previous wording — that expansion in other directions will encourage an overall spatial imbalance in the city — made them feel like the city was abandoning development in west Starkville.
Economists working for the Walker Collaborative identified the area around MSU’s campus as the likely destination for continued growth and pointed to the amount of apartment complexes developing in the outlying county as proof of interest in the area.
That language, planners said, will be modified in the final draft.
“We want to see all land inside the city developed to its highest and best potential use,” Wiseman said. “The purpose of a comprehensive plan is in the name — it’s to develop a comprehensive strategy for the future of our city. It is sound planning that ultimately produces development of land that allows for it to reach that highest and best use. There was language … that used the term ‘growth’ in an ambiguous way that was problematic. We’re working to clean that up.”
Other residents, including developer Spencer Bailey, said city outreach in the planning process was lacking and focus groups used to develop suggestions did not reflect a true cross section of the population.
“I think this matter … needs to have everybody that owns a piece of land notified (so they) have the ability and opportunity to come in here before anything is done, because it changes a lot of things,” he said. “I think really what needs to happen is we need to back up and we need to wait and let everybody have an opportunity. We need to understand it a lot better than what’s understood now.”
Ins and outs
Starkville aldermen hired the Tennessee-based Walker Collaborative to develop a comprehensive plan in July. Since then, the firm has visited Starkville numerous times and held various work sessions to inventory the town, study its development codes and meet with constituents.
A comprehensive planning advisory group was formed with members of the chamber of commerce, planning and zoning board, MSU-affiliated employees, developers and city staff.
Early versions of the plan breaks Starkville down not by specific land uses, but by place types, including natural and rural areas with open spaces; more traditional suburban and urban cores; and special districts.
Land use and suggested development types are dictated by the nature of the spaces.
The plan also analyzes some facets of Starkville’s economy. For example, it states opportunities exist for homebuyers looking for sub-$250,000 properties and developers looking to create mixed-use facilities and infill residential properties near downtown and the Cotton District.
Additionally, the report states Starkville is more likely to recruit niche retail stores in those same walkable spaces and could bolster tourism with additional anchor attractions and lodging.
More downtown merchant space is needed to meet needs since retail occupancy in the corridor is near 100 percent, the report states, which could push developers to eye feeder roads and corridors — Highway 182, for example — for development.
Big box retail developments are forecast to remain on the Highway 12 and Highway 82 corridors, while smaller, local-serving nodes could develop in fast-growing areas, like South Montgomery Street and Poor House Road.
Once a comprehensive plan is approved by the city, community development officials are expected to begin re-writing development codes.
The process is expected to trim Starkville’s 20 zoning designation to a more manageable amount and modernize its subdivision ordinance, which has roots in the 1970s.
Code formatting, Sanders previously said, is expected to develop a more user-friendly document by adding visual elements and removing redundant text.
Those changes and making codes easier to follow should provide the biggest and most immediate impact for developers, he previously said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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