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Starkville appeals board approves Kraker’s project

November 16, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

The Starkville Board of Adjustments and Appeals gave Michael Kraker approval to develop a PUD (planned unit development) located on the recently opened extension of Garrard Road.
The Starkville Board of Aldermen, at the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation, approved a zone change from R-1 (single-family residential) to PUD on Oct. 4 to facilitate Kraker’s plat, but Kraker still needed the BOAA to approve variances in his plat from existing PUD regulations.
The BOAA was originally going to consider four separate variances for Kraker’s PUD, but Kraker rescinded one of them. To maintain compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Kraker asked to withdraw his request for the city to allow sidewalks four feet wide instead of the five feet normally required. Since the request had already been advertised, the board still had to act on the request, and voted to deny it unanimously.
The other three extant variances discussed were requests for the city to allow:
u Roadways 24 feet wide instead of the usual minimum requirement of 31 feet.
u Rights-of-way 42 feet wide instead of the usual minimum requirement of 42 feet.
u A net density of 6.04 dwelling units per acre instead of the usual maximum of five dwelling units per acre.
Concerning the last variance, the board extensively discussed how density for the PUD should be measured. Board chairman Milo Burnham said the board’s decision would likely influence how the city measures density for PUDs in the future.
According to City Planner Ben Griffith’s report, net density excludes acreage for roadways from the acreage used to calculate density, giving Kraker 3.81 acres for 23 dwelling units for a density of 6.04 units per acre. Gross density includes the roadway acreage, giving Kraker 5.01 acres for 23 units for a density of 4.59 dwelling units per acre.
The report says city regulations allow PUDs to exceed the density of surrounding property by no more than 25 percent, and the maximum gross density for the surrounding properties is four units per acre. While the net density would require a variance, the gross density would not.
At the meeting, Griffith said the planning office had concluded gross density would be the best measure to compare properties in different zones because the city’s comprehensive plan is the only source of gross density ranges for different zones the city has.
“The question of density calculation has been contested since the beginning,” Griffith said. “There are numerous, sometimes conflicting references to density found throughout the code of ordinances, but no specific methodology for comparison between the different zoning districts.”
When the board opened the meeting to public comment, Greg Ibendahl said while city ordinances are Starkville’s governing laws, the comprehensive plan carries less weight because it is only a set of recommendations to guide development. He said the city’s ordinances are clear on the density issue.
“It says right there in the definition of ‘density;’ it says ‘the number of dwelling units permitted per net acre of land,’” Ibendahl said. “That means your maximum density allowed by city ordinance is 5.44 dwelling units per acre.”
However, Ibendahl said PUD requirements for open spaces and common areas would still make the dwelling unit density as high as 12.4 units per developable acre. Michael Kraker’s wife, Gayle, disputed this claim, saying Ibendahl’s measure was just one of many interpretations of unclear policies.
Michael Kraker then said the board should trust Griffith’s judgment on the matter.
“I think the city of Starkville has hired a city planner to do this job — to interpret the policies of the city,” Michael said. “I think he’s done his job.”
Ultimately, the board voted to approve the gross density calculation for the PUD, thereby eliminating the need for the variance and denying it.
The vote came 4-1, with only Dennis Nordin voting against it.
The other two variances were approved 3-2, with Nordin and Marco Nicovich voting against both of them.

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