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Cochran Research Park housing plans pass zoning hurdle

October 9, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
educ@starkvilledailynews.com

The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of plans for a corporate housing complex at the Thad Cochran Research Park Tuesday, adding new conditions to the recommendation after extensive discussion of ways the project could meet more of its potential.

Commissioner Jason Walker made a motion, which passed unanimously, to add two conditions to Clyde Pritchard’s proposal for 300 Traditions, a 40-residence complex planned for the research park’s northwest corner. The first condition changes the property’s proposed minimum of 2.5 parking spaces per unit to a maximum of 1.5 parking spaces per unit, and the second condition requires buildings in the complex to be set no further apart from each other than is required by fire code.

Before discussion of 300 Traditions began, commission chair Jerry Emison recused himself. Emison is a political science and public administration professor at Mississippi State University, and because MSU owns property adjacent to the land for 300 Traditions, he said he saw participation in the discussion as a conflict of interests, even though City Attorney Chris Latimer assured him the state would not view participation as such.

“The American Institution of Certified Planners prohibits members from participating in any activity that would be either an actual or (an apparent) conflict of interests,” Emison said. “In consulting with AICP staff, they believe, as I do, that it would be best in the deliberations (for me) not to have any input in this.”

Walker said he was conceptually in favor of housing at the research park, but he saw inconsistencies between the ideas being presented and the concept on display. For instance, he said, the planner’s report describes the project as the first of its kind in Starkville, but he was not certain what distinguished 300 Traditions from other developments apart from its location and amenities.

Pritchard said one of the unique ideas behind 300 Traditions is the potential for transportation without gas vehicles, with spaces specifically for street-legal electric vehicles that do not count toward the residences’ overall parking capacity. Walker, along with fellow commissioners Jeremy Murdock and James Hicks, then asked whether the city could reduce the complex’s parking requirements based on the presence of electric vehicles. City Planner Ben Griffith said no such provision is currently in place.

Walker said he likes the “live, work, play” concept at the center of 300 traditions, but he wants to see it carried further.

“There’s a lot of places in town that could be more ‘live, work, play’ than this,” Walker said. “I think what really needs to happen, if you start talking about targeting this kind of clientele, is it needs to be more of a village-like approach. I think there’s a huge opportunity for both the existing phase of the research park (and the upcoming second phase). I’m not sure this really gets there quite yet.”

Murdock said he was concerned about large, asphalt parking lots for 300 Traditions because that could detract from the current character of the research park.

Walker made similar comments, which, together with his request for a “village-like approach,” led to his motion for the two new conditions.

Griffith said the parking condition would require a variance from ordinances governing general parking requirements, but Walker said the variances would be worthwhile to realize the 300 Traditions project’s full potential.

“I would make the argument that in this case, we would have a little bit of leeway to do something which hasn’t been done in Starkville,” Walker said. “I think this board should be able to make that recommendation.”

The commission briefly discussed whether these variances would require approval from the Starkville Board of Adjustments and Appeals, but Latimer said they would not.

“The difference here is when an applicant seeks a variance, the proper procedure is to go before the board of adjustments and appeals, but in this case, a commissioner has added the condition,” Latimer said. “As the board of adjustments and appeals and the (zoning commission) are both recommending bodies to the board (of aldermen), it makes sense that this variance request is made by the commission and then goes straight to the (aldermen).”

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