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Commission sides against zoning change

November 9, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission held three public hearings at its meeting Tuesday, but only one actually received public attendance and comment.
Citizens in attendance commented on Louise Page’s request for a zoning change from R-1 (single-family residential) to R-6 (mobile homes) at 1641 Rockhill Road. The commission ultimately voted to recommend the Starkville Board of Aldermen deny the zoning change. No one took the opportunity to comment other two public hearings, one on repealing and replacing the city’s chart of permitted land uses and another on implementing form-based codes drafted by Placemakers.
The commission decided to have the planning department implement revisions recommended at the meeting to a final draft of the land use chart, with plans to vote on forwarding it to the board of aldermen at their regular meeting in December. Members also discussed changes to the form-based codes draft with Nathan Norris, director of implementation advisory at Placemakers, and voted to have him work with the planning department and city attorney to make the revisions they discussed and return with a new draft at their next meeting.
Page asked the city to re-zone her 13 acres of property to allow her grandson to place a mobile home on her property as his primary residence. The planner’s report on the request says most of the adjacent property owners are members of Page’s family. Currently, only one mobile home is on the property, the report says, but more than 30 mobile homes are in the Rockhill Road area. The report also says the planning office has already approved six other requests for R-1-to-R-6 re-zonings in the area to date.
When Page made her request, she said her son had told her Larry Bell, owner of property to Page’s west, had asked him about the possibility of buying Page’s land.
“He should have come to me,” Page said.
Bell was one of the commenters in the public hearing, and he said while he had spoken with Page’s son to see if he had received notice of Page’s request, he had not asked about buying Page’s land. Once again, he also said he disapproved of Page’s request.
“This lady is asking for 13 acres for one trailer, and that’s wrong,” Bell said. “It’s just unreasonable to think we need more space for trailers when we have 14 trailer parks.”
Latimer said the issue of re-zoning had nothing to do with the size of the property to be re-zoned. Instead, he said, Page’s request had to meet a legal test for re-zoning by arguing the original R-1 zoning was in error, a condition he said was met.
Commission chair Jerry Emison disagreed.
“This is an extraordinarily large re-zoning for a single dwelling unit,” Emison said. “If I did have a vote, I would not be supporting the re-zoning because of the size of the re-zoning.”
Emison is only allowed to vote on measures in the event of a tie. So, when a vote to recommend denial of the request was tied 3-3, with Dora Herring, Ira Loveless and James Hicks in favor and Jason Walker, Jeremy Murdock and John Moore against, Emison cast the tie-breaking vote in favor.
With no one commenting at the public hearings, the board proceeded to hold a work session on the land use chart and gave Norris an opportunity to answer more than 30 questions about his company’s proposed form-based codes.
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.
The new land use chart is intended to streamline the city’s chart of conditional and permitted land uses. The commission began this streamlining process when Placemakers prepared the first draft of their form-based codes without consulting the city’s current land use chart, resulting in inconsistencies between the code draft and the chart. Placemakers’ current draft of the form-based codes uses the new land use chart draft.
In discussion of the land use chart, one of the major topics was a distinction between passive recreational facilities like walking trails and active recreational facilities like soccer fields, and whether or not each type should be allowed in residential zones. The commission decided passive recreation should be permitted in residential zones, but active recreation should be conditional, requiring consultation with the city.
Also discussed were residential buildings in agricultural zones, government facilities downtown, and parking facilities in general, all of which were made conditional uses.
In the commission’s work session Oct. 26, Emison said he objected to language in the form-based codes draft which allowed the codes’ provisions to supersede zoning provisions. Norris said cities usually take one of two options when enforcing form-based codes: a “mass re-zoning” just as Emison described, or a set of overlays allowing residents to choose whether to comply with the codes or with the previously established zoning.
Latimer said Mississippi law has no precedent for such overlays, so the best way to ensure the legality of the form-based codes would be the “mass re-zoning.” Like other re-zonings, Latimer said, the form-based codes would need to meet one of two legal tests. The first is the option Page took in her request, the argument that the original zoning was in error. The second is the argument that changing conditions in the area have created a need for re-zoning. To make this second case for the form-based codes, Latimer said, the commission would only need a finding of facts establishing a growing connection between Mississippi State University and Starkville, because the form-based codes are intended to reinforce that connection.

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