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Mayor vetoes sidewalk law exception

February 3, 2011

By KELLY DANIELS
citybeat@bellsouth.net

A veto Mayor Parker Wiseman promised a month ago was finally issued Wednesday, overturning an exception to the city’s sidewalk ordinance that would favor areas in the industrial park.
And pedestrian-friendly officials couldn’t be more happy about it.
“This speaks volumes about the direction this community is going,” Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said, hoping that more time and work will produce an objective variance process to be included in the ordinance requiring sidewalks with future development.
At the request of a local business owner, the Board of Aldermen passed 4-3 an amendment to the ordinance that excluded a quadrant of roads from sidewalk requirements: Industrial Park Road, Airport Road, Miley Drive and Pollard Road.
Dumas, Vice Mayor and Ward 2 Alderwoman Sandra Sistrunk and Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey voted against the ordinance change.
The board would need a 5-2 majority to override Wiseman’s veto.
Beginning last fall, the public debate began when Golden Triangle Planning and Development District director Rudy Johnson stated he did not want to spend $25,000 on an unconnected sidewalk in conjunction with the planned construction of a $3 million senior citizen services center and promised to take the agency and its jobs out of Starkville if he had to follow the ordinance as written.
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, who proposed the amendment, said during public hearings that he supports sidewalk development only in residential areas or places with an “overwhelming need.”
In an e-mailed statement Wednesday, Carver said that a scattered approach to sidewalk installation is an embarrassing and unfeasible approach to planning.
“We should discover ways to place sidewalks in areas that they would serve as connectors and their efficiency and effectiveness could be well documented,” Carver said. “An exemption for our industrial park would have been the best solution for the next few years, or until sidewalks were closer in proximity to the GTPDD.”
In October, before the amendment was proposed, Carver and the board asked the city’s Transportation Committee to research and find a feasible variance process.
The committee held two public hearings and studied ordinances adopted by cities comparable in size to Starkville but had yet to make a recommendation to the Board of Aldermen when Carver made his proposal.
The Transportation Committee was not notified, and its incensed members deplored what they called wasted time and effort during the additional two public hearings held by the board.
Wiseman’s notice of intent to veto issued on Jan. 7 stated that the sidewalk ordinance needed a clearly defined, objective process for seeking variance or exemptions from its requirements.
“However, the amendment to the ordinance does not establish such a process,” the notice of intent reads. “It offers a blanket exemption from the requirements of the law to property located on four streets. Such an exemption is unfair to owners and developers of property on all other streets in the city who must still abide by the law. Ultimately, the exemption is unfair to the citizens of this community who faithfully rely upon the City to establish the law in a manner that extends the same justice to everyone.”
Wiseman hopes, according to the notice, that the Board of Aldermen and the Transportation Committee will establish an objective process by which citizens may receive a fair hearing to determine whether variance or exemption from the sidewalk requirements is merited.
Carver has different hopes.
“I hope and pray that the Transportation Committee can draft a variance process that is representative and realistic of the ideal that some areas of town are simply not suitable nor feasible for sidewalk construction at this time,” Carver continued in his email.
“Since the city is not financially able to install sidewalks in all areas in town, it passes the burden of installation on to the private sector establishment that is renovating or building an establishment.”
Still, Dumas, who is “very pleased with the Mayor’s stance,” is optimistic that officials and transportation specialists have the “greater long term good” for Starkville’s citizens in mind.
“This has been a very open public dialog that’s been happening for months now, and, unfortunately, the amendment got in the way,” he said. “Hopefully, with a committee of experts and people we trust, the process will take its course.”

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