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Sidewalk flap has GTPDD fuming

August 23, 2010

GTPDD Director Rudy Johnson says a building project is in jeopardy.

A disagreement with city officials over sidewalk ordinance requirements could kill a $1.6 million building project and send the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District offices out of Starkville, the agency’s director says.
The GTPDD is planning to build a 14,700-square-foot building on property the agency currently owns behind its current facility on Miley Drive in the city’s industrial park, but the agency’s board does not feel that a city ordinance requirement that a new sidewalk be built on the property is necessary given that there is no pedestrian traffic in the area, said Executive Director Rudy Johnson.
The dispute over the sidewalk requirement could mean the GTPDD, which has more than 200 employees and a $5.1 million annual payroll, may pull up stakes and look for a new home in one of the other counties the agency serves, Johnson said. The GTPDD board has authorized Johnson to look for facilities outside of Starkville, he said.
“Unless we can work out something with the city, we’re looking at leaving the city,” Johnson said. “We might find something in the county, but we’re not going to deal with the city.”
The city’s sidewalk ordinance stipulates that all new residential and commercial developments or any development that equates to 50 percent or more of the appraised value of a property be required to have sidewalks.
In the GTPDD’s case, the required sidewalk would have to be built along the front of the agency’s Miley Drive property and then along the east side of C.C. Clark Road, which runs to the east of the existing building and to the lot where the new building is to be constructed. Another sidewalk would have to be constructed from the one along the roadway to the new building.
The new building, Johnson says, would provide 5,000 square feet for an expanded Senior Citizens Enrichment Center, as well as house all the senior adult service programs the GTPDD operates, including the home-delivered meals and home cleaning services.
Those services — including the Senior Center — could be lost locally if the GTPDD relocates to another community, Johnson said.
The sidewalk requirement — which arose as the GTPDD was seeking building permits for the new building — is one the agency’s 28-member board of directors feels is unnecessary, Johnson said.
“It’s a sidewalk to nowhere. My board did not feel a sidewalk was necessary given our location in the industrial park,” said Johnson.
“You don’t want someone walking around the industrial park.”
The GTPDD board authorized him to negotiate with Mayor Parker Wiseman and the Starkville Board of Aldermen to see if the sidewalk requirement could be waived, but Johnson said he was told Monday morning following a meeting with several city officials that their intent was “a unified sidewalk system that encompasses the entire city” and that the sidewalk requirement for the PDD property would not be lifted.
“My suggestion was that they were the Board of Aldermen and could make exceptions. This ordinance has no wiggle room and no due process of people feel like it doesn’t fit them or if they need a variance,” Johnson said.
Wiseman, reached by phone Monday evening, confirmed that the ordinance, as currently written, does not allow for a variance process.
City Attorney Chris Latimer has advised him and the Board of Aldermen of this on numerous occasions, primarily in response to multiple requests for variances from the sidewalk ordinance, Wiseman said.
“There have been several people who wanted to have the ordinance requirements waived or varied,” Wiseman said.
“As it stands now, it’s a regulation that exists like all regulations that exist for development. It’s no different than building codes or zoning. It’s policy to guide development.”
The Board of Aldermen does have the power to amend the ordinance to include a variance process, and that issue has been referred to the board’s Transportation Committee for evaluation and a recommendation for full board action, Wiseman said.
The proposed variance process being considered would mean all those seeking a variance from the ordinance would see their requests referred to the Transportation Committee for evaluation and a recommendation for full board action, Wiseman said.
“We are considering an amendment to the ordinance,” he said.
In the meantime, city officials might want to consider being less restrictive on development issues because of the message it sends publicly, Johnson said.
“Something needs to be done. People need to wake up and do something about this,” Johnson said.

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