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Work session scheduled for land-use codes

October 13, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission resolved Tuesday to continue discussion of revisions to their land use chart at a work session Oct. 25, where they will also discuss Placemakers LLC’s next draft of form-based codes.
The draft the commission reviewed was intended to streamline the city’s chart of conditional and permitted land uses. Many revisions to the draft were discussed, and City Planner Ben Griffith said while the commission is free to discuss further revisions at the Oct. 25 work session, he plans to go ahead and give Placemakers the revisions the commission made Tuesday. That way, he said, Placemakers can respond with a draft of form-based codes based on the revised chart, and the commission will be able to discuss both form-based codes and further chart revisions at their Oct. 25 work session.
Typically, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission sets rules for how property can be used in certain areas, including commercial, industrial and residential use. Form-based codes set more focused architectural guidelines in certain areas to encourage certain types of land use, allowing developers to build better projects with fewer administrative steps.
One of the primary topics discussed was whether or not certain land uses in certain zones should be conditional. For instance, Ward 4 Commissioner Jason Walker said the use of accessory dwelling units in residential zones should nearly always be conditional, and the chart should call for conditional uses as often as possible.
“That’s what going to give us the most control as a recommending body,” Walker said. “The more of this chart we have filled in as conditional use, that’s the mechanism that gives us a little bit more control over what happens.”
Commission chair Jerry Emison pointed out the draft disallowed all residential areas from being used for indoor or outdoor recreation or entertainment.
“If you do that, you take away the opportunity for people to go with golf course communities or to have a community swimming pool in a large area,” Emison said. “What’s not happened here that has happened in a number of other places around this country — I’ve lived in these subdivisions — is subdivisions with amenities beyond just houses and roads — golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools. I don’t think we want to structure our uses here to prevent that from occurring.”
In other business, the board also approved a request by Brewer Construction for a plat for the second part of the South Wedgewood subdivision. They also took no action on Louise Page’s rezoning request to rezone 17 acres of property from R-1 (residential) to R-6 (mobile home), with Emison and City Attorney Chris Latimer instead recommending she withdraw it for the time being.
Discussion of Page’s request began with questions about how many trailers were currently on the her property, in light of an acre of the property already marked in white as R-6. Griffith said Page herself had lived on the property in a mobile home since before the city annexed it in 1998, so that property was not rezoned. Then her granddaughter joined her on the property in a mobile home of her own in 2008, and Page successfully got the city to mark an acre of her property R-6 for her granddaughter.
Ward 6 commissioner Ira Loveless then said there were two errors on the staff report for Page’s request. First, Loveless said, tax records showed Page paying taxes on only 13.5 acres, leading Page to mention she had sold some of her property to family years ago. Second, he said, the report referred to the land directly north of Page’s property as a landfill, when it was actually privately owned.
Larry Bell, owner of property to Page’s west, said he shared Loveless’s concerns, and he was neither mentioned in the report nor notified of the zoning change request 10 days before the meeting, as is city policy. He said a key reason for the confusion about how much land Page actually owned was the lack of a plat for her land.
“I don’t know how you can rezone 13 acres and not have it platted before you come in,” Bell said. “You make everybody else have a plat for a reason.”
Emison said he did not feel he had enough information for an informed vote on Page’s request, and Latimer agreed. Page would have to wait six months to resubmit her request if the commission recommended the request for approval but the board of aldermen rejected it, Latimer said, making withdrawal until the next meeting Page’s best option.
Latimer said two legal issues were in play. First, he said, the commission has to determine whether or not the zoning on Page’s property was in error when the property was annexed in 1998. Second, the commission must assess how many surrounding properties have become R-6 zones.
“All of those facts are missing,” Latimer said. “My recommendation is, you truly do not have enough facts to make a reasoned and measured decision.”
The staff report on Page’s request is credited to assistant city planner Pamela Daniel, but Griffith apologized for the errors in the report during the meeting.

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