STARKVILLE — The draft of the city’s unified development code has finally attracted some public interest beyond the proposed restrictions on short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, City Planner Daniel Havelin said Monday.
The city has received citizen feedback on other changes to the code, both on the city website and at the public hearing the Planning and Zoning Commission held on Nov. 12, Havelin said. He and Assistant City Planner Emily Corban presented an updated draft of the code to the board of aldermen at a special-call meeting Monday and explained how the proposed new code differs from the current one.
“We have listened often and made changes and seen things that made sense, so I think everybody should be comfortable that we’ve been responsive to their requests and to the concerns that have come to us on a fairly regular basis,” Mayor Lynn Spruill said.
The city provided the full text of sections 3 and 10 of the draft code on paper at Monday’s meeting, and the entire draft will be available online today, Havelin said. The board of aldermen will hold public hearings at its Dec. 3 and Dec. 17 meetings before considering approval for the code at the second meeting.
The rewritten code has been in the works since 2017 with the goal of modernizing development in Starkville, and includes goals that the city adopted in its comprehensive plan in 2016.
Uses of optional districts
Most of the changes to the proposed code have been minor, but the most significant one came from public feedback regarding the proposed optional zoning districts in the northwest portion of the city, Havelin said.
Much of the land is currently zoned as general business or high-density, multi-family residential. Developers who want to build in optional districts will have to present to the city a “conceptual master plan” for how the land will be used, according to section 3 of the draft code.
“From a city standpoint, we need to have (an idea of) what the circulation of our roads are going to be, what kind of utilities need to be up there, how much water do we expect to have to use, what are the size of the pipes that need to be running to it,” Havelin said. “It’s little things that we need to be able to predict, and this just gives us a little bit of confidence to try to predict development without saying you’re building a 10,000 square-foot building right here. It’s just a conceptual idea.”
An earlier draft of the code said the land would then be zoned commercial, industrial, conservation or traditional neighborhood for that project, but the public expressed concerns about the cost of the rezoning process, Havelin said. It would have required hiring a consultant and conducting several surveys and studies of the land before applying to rezone.
“If you’re the seller of a piece of property, that’s a lot of hoops and hurdles to jump through just to get to the point where you can sell it,” Havelin said. “We heard that loud and clear at Planning and Zoning.”
Reducing the application requirements was not enough to alleviate public concern, so the most recent draft of the code allows developers to apply for use designation instead of rezoning. A conditional use permit requires public hearings and public notification, but the city has to notify only the adjacent property owners before issuing a use designation, according to the draft code. The land can be designated commercial, industrial, conservation or traditional neighborhood.
The use designation process should not take more than 30 days, Havelin said.
Other changes to the code
Havelin told The Dispatch he had most expected to hear from the public about the optional districts and the addition of an architecture review board. The planning division received very few comments about the code beyond the short-term rental policy before the Planning and Zoning Commission hearing, and then the comments started coming in both online and in person, he said.
The new architecture review process will include a board of at least three independent consultants to make sure all development conforms to the city’s standards. Architecture review will apply to “all land areas in the city which are zoned for commercial use, industrial use, mixed-use, or multi-unit residential greater than two (2) dwelling units per site,” according to the code. The board of aldermen and any applicable advisory boards must approve the site plan before the architecture review consultant and development review committee can do so, and only then can the developer receive a building permit.
The section of the code pertaining to subdivision standards has been rewritten to discourage the development of cul-de-sacs, Havelin said. New cul-de-sacs would ideally have green space in the center, which will eventually reduce the cost of repaving the road, he said.
City Engineer Edward Kemp said one reason for the change was to make it easier for fire trucks to navigate neighborhoods, since the radius of a cul-de-sac is often determined by the size of fire trucks.
“What we’re trying to do is envision ways we can make it less of a massive asphalt sea,” Kemp said.
The board will vote on the short-term rental policy separately from the code in December because of the ongoing debate between board members and the public. The most recent version of the proposed policy includes a $20 permit fee and a requirement for the permit holder to provide the city with a list of local contacts who can be reached at all hours in case of any issues.
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker commended city staff for their hard work on the code.
“I think there are a lot of things that we’re going to find out are right and what we need for Starkville,” Walker said. “There are undoubtedly some things in here that aren’t going to do exactly what people think they’re going to do. At that point, there are opportunities to come back in and make some adjustments, and that’s going to be on future boards to be willing to do that.”