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Beautification efforts downtown confuse volunteers

December 7, 2010

By KELLY DANIELS
citybeat@bellsouth.net

Volunteers serving on Starkville’s Beautification Committee came to an agreement Monday to review and approve funding for aesthetic-related projects after objections from local residents to sudden landscape changes downtown.
Some members of the committee complained they did not know the details of the project before a crew uprooted various shrubs and plants from Main Street, replacing them with trees expected to grow larger.
Mississippi Master Gardener Jane Loveless said she would have liked to provide suggestions on different plants and trees to use, along with Jim McKell, Richard Mullenax and Milo Burnham.
“I just want to know what’s going on,” said Loveless, making a motion for future approval of funding.
Dylan Karges, who has spearheaded beautification efforts throughout Starkville, regretted the results of having not fully disclosed details of the project to the entire committee.
“We should not have had to make that motion,” Karges said. “I offer an apology.”
Karges has kept the holly bushes alive and hydrated at the Starkville Community Market where they were replanted.
Members of the committee raised $15,000 from public and private entities to match the City of Starkville’s $15,000 contribution, totaling $30,000 for beautification jobs.
The committee recommended them to the Board of Aldermen, which gave them approval.
Burnham, however, complained to the board soon after Main Street’s plants were suddenly gone and only Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas could give him an answer, Burnham remembered aloud.
Dumas said on Monday that renowned urban planner Howard Blackson of Placemakers studied Starkville’s composition and suggested a “canopy” approach to downtown, introducing shade to the landscape and requiring removal of its “pyramid” plants.
“I have received nothing but positive comments about this,” Dumas said, referring to feedback from business owners downtown and his constituents.
Partnering with the Town and Country Garden Club, the Starkville Main Street Association entrusted the recent new gardening plans to landscape architect Gene Merkl.
“We were not trying to mislead anyone,” Main Street Association Manager Jennifer Gregory said.
Loveless, however, said that fellow gardeners were surprised by the new look of downtown and that she felt responsible to the taxpayers as a member of the committee to provide an explanation.
Burnham also raised concerns that new trees will require a lot of pruning to survive.
“Whether or not it was the right or wrong choice will be revealed in time,” Burnham said.
Gregory contended that members of the Main Street Association hold themselves responsible for the landscape maintenance.
Along with private donors, funders of the project included the following: Starkville Area Arts Council, the Starkville Visitors and Convention Council, Mississippi Arts Commission, Kiwanis Club of Starkville and the Town and Country Garden Club.
Committee members also agreed to record minutes of meetings and meet on the first Monday of every month.
The next meeting of the Beautification Committee will take place on Jan. 3.

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