A new comprehensive plan the city has spent more than $150,000 and nearly 18 months to develop narrowly survived a Starkville Board of Aldermen vote Tuesday evening at City Hall.
Aldermen voted 4-3 to approve the comprehensive plan, following about two hours of intense discussion among board members and a barrage of citizen comments. Aldermen Ben Carver, David Little, Jason Walker and Scott Maynard — of wards 1, 3, 4 and 5, respectively — voted for the measure, while Lisa Wynn, Roy A. Perkins and Henry Vaughn — of wards 2, 6 and 7, respectively — opposed.
The plan sets guidelines for future zoning and land use meant to spur residential growth and economic development. It also sets in motion city officials rewriting development codes — ranging from zoning and streets to signs and sidewalks — that by state law must now fit within the parameters of the plan.
“I want everyone to understand what this plan is and what this isn’t,” Mayor Parker Wiseman said from the board table Tuesday. “This is not land-use law. This is not zoning law. It’s a vision. …It’s a long statement of what we want (the city) to be in 20 years.”
New codes, however, will be legally binding.
The Nashville, Tennessee-based Walker Collaborative consulting firm began working with the city to develop the comprehensive plan in July 2015, hosting several work sessions and public hearings with city leaders and citizens.
In the final draft presented Tuesday, collaborative representatives outlined development strategies for natural, rural, suburban, urban, special and optional zones in the city, recommending unique street, sidewalk and other codes for each zone. That would allow the city to develop each “in context,” rather than take a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Specifically, the plan recommends more mixed-use development — districts that would combine retail and housing — as well as drafting a more effective plan to provide “complete streets” with pedestrian access, bikability and transit throughout the city. It also recommends better street-scaping and pedestrian access along Highways 12 and 182 that would recruit more private investment.
Moreover, the plan identified 8,000 acres of undeveloped land in the city limits, which it estimated could accommodate 18.5 million square feet of non-residential development and about 40,000 housing units. Starkville’s population, the report indicates, is growing by an average of 177 per year.
Support and dissent
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker called the plan a “meaningful path forward” and urged aldermen to approve it. He said the flexibility it offers for land use provides a key recruitment tool for housing and business development.
“This does an extremely good job giving a framework of how to systematically grow the entirety of Starkville,” he said. “…This gives us our best chance. The time to act is now.”
However, Vaughn and Wynn spoke against the plan’s immediate approval, specifically criticizing the document for neglecting to outline development opportunities in the city’s north and west sides.
“Anything that happens in Ward 6 or 7, we have to fight for,” said Vaughn, referring to his and Perkins’ constituents, many of whom live in north and west Starkville. “But if it’s in any other ward, we always say ‘yea.'”
Their argument gained traction among residents in those areas in attendance, some pleading with board members to at least table the measure until January.
Wynn expressed concern for trying to pass the plan the week of Christmas, when she believed many citizens who would want to speak were out of town. Her motion to table the measure failed, however, garnering only four of the five votes needed to reach a supermajority of the board.
“I’m not against this,” Wynn said. “We just need more time.”
Walker later moved to approve the plan with a second from Little.
Only a simple majority was necessary to approve the plan.
In other business, aldermen approved, by a 6-1 vote, appropriating an extra $245,000 for street improvements this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2017. Carver opposed the measure.
Aldermen will transfer $150,000 from a future tax-increment financing line item to help cover the cost, since the money is obligated and would otherwise go unspent. They will transfer the remaining $95,000 from last year’s ending fund balance.
The appropriation will allow each alderman an additional $35,000 for street improvements in their ward. This nearly doubles the $40,000 each received in the original budget for FY 2017.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.