Discussion over amending the city’s Unified Development Code and technical codes, including requirements for certain facilities to add features such as sprinkler systems and storm shelters, dominated Starkville’s regular board of aldermen meeting Tuesday, the first of two public hearings on the topic.
City officials presented a list of proposed amendments for the code, which included everything from updating development standards to fixing grammatical and numerical errors. However, it was one specific regulation in the proposed electrical codes that garnered discussion among aldermen.
The regulation would require restaurants or bars where alcoholic beverages are consumed and that have an occupant load of 300 or more be equipped with an automatic sprinkler system, a change that would affect only one business in the city, downtown bar Level III.
Fire Marshall Mark McCurdy told the board he already reached out to Level III owner Andre Taylor about this regulation if it were to be adopted, and Taylor expressed concern about the financial hardship of having to install a sprinkler system.
“If this were to be adopted, it would require that one business (Level III) to either sprinkle his building or go out of business basically,” McCurdy said.
Taylor did not respond to a message from The Dispatch by press time.
Mayor Lynn Spruill and Board Attorney Chris Latimer recommended the board thoroughly examine the severity and potential consequences of this code amendment.
“The fact that they are the only ones that would find themselves in that position, I don’t think that necessarily goes well for us to go that route,” Spruill said, “but that will be a board decision. Maybe there is more than one way to address that issue, and I think that is one of the things for us to research during this time frame over the next three weeks.”
Discussion of the sprinkler systems was just one part of the process of updating the code, which city officials said must be revisited every few years as building and development standards are changed. Starkville residents can weigh in and give their opinions at the next public hearing on April 6.
Some of these amendments encompass issues such as service equipment barriers, outside power disconnection, storm shelters, accessible entrances and clothes dryer requirements. McCurdy also presented the proposed National Electric Code, which covered topics such as emergency systems, fire alarm systems and sprinkler systems.
Latimer told the board they do not necessarily have to adopt all of the proposed amendments.
“What you guys want to take out is up to your discretion,” Latimer said. “What I would recommend between this hearing and the next is y’all get a list of all of the stuff you want pulled out of these codes and talk about the rational basis for those exclusions.”
Ward 4 Alderman Jason Walker echoed that the board did not have to approve all of the code amendments, just ones that would benefit Starkville.
“We don’t really have a choice other than to adopt that (the code),” Walker said. “What we do have is a choice to look through those and find the things where we can make some modifications to fit Starkville, like every other municipality or everybody that adopts those codes.”
Libertarian Party of Oktibbeha County chair Laz Austin, who spoke during the public comment session of the hearing, expressed concern about the potential of the proposed amendments, stating that they could cause financial burdens on residents.
“It should be their choice or their fault if something happens,” Austin said. “The real estate values in Oktibbeha County are sky-high compared to surrounding counties. The more codes we have, the more expensive things will be. I just think if it doesn’t affect other people, leave them alone.”
Discussion of masks
Also raised during the aldermen meeting was the ongoing discussion of whether the city should continue to mandate masks be worn in public. Spruill told the board she believes the current mask mandate ordinance in place should be lifted on April 30, the same day Mississippi State University will lift its mandate, according to university President Mark Keenum.
Aldermen agreed to revisit this topic around April 30, and Spruill said it will be on the agenda for the second board meeting in April.
Dr. Emily B. Landrum of the Family Clinic on Hospital Road in Starkville spoke at the meeting on behalf of continuing the mandate. Although COVID-19 cases are decreasing, she said, taking precautionary measures such as wearing a mask will help keep those numbers down.
“I want to encourage y’all to continue the mask mandate for at least a little bit longer,” Landrum said. “I think that if we want to continue to open things up at ease, all of the capacity restrictions, letting businesses go back to normal, anything we can do to help prevent the spread including continuing the mask mandate will help us keep it that way.”