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Citizens question form-based codes in public hearing

December 20, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

The Starkville Board of Aldermen held its first public hearings on both form-based codes and a new land-use chart for the city at its meeting Tuesday night. Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker also raised questions about limitations the new land-use chart would place on payday loan businesses in town, leading into renewal of the city’s moratorium on such businesses until Mar. 31, 2012.
After Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas suggested several changes to the form-based codes, City Attorney Chris Latimer recommended an extra public hearing be held on the matter to allow the board and the public to fully assess the amended document.
Form-based codes set more focused architectural guidelines than regular zoning laws in certain districts 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.
During public comments on the form-based codes, Mark Guyton, a partner with Guyton Properties, said he was not taking a position for or against the codes, but he wanted to see more effort on the city’s part to give landowners notice of the changes the codes would enact in the corridors between Starkville and Mississippi State University.
“The landowners need to realize this is a wholesale rezoning of some large sections of town, the majority of the downtown area.” Guyton said. “Usually, when you re-zone a property, the landowner’s a party to it and knows that it’s going on, the affected landowners within a certain distance actually receive certified letters and they usually put a sign out saying it’s being re-zoned. None of that’s happened in this case.
“As a landowner in town, if it’s affecting my property, I think I should be well notified,” Guyton added. “We have lots of landowners in these areas that don’t live in Starkville, that don’t read the Starkville Daily News. Right now, that’s the only notification that has gone out, is these ads about form-based codes and transect districts. I’ve called three or four friends of mine that own property in the affected districts. Not a one of them actually understood that their property would be re-zoned.”
Latimer said state statutes call for notice of re-zoning consideration to be published 15 days in advance, and the city’s ordinance on giving building owners notice is up to the city’s discretion. He said the city therefore opted out of procedures it usually uses for re-zoning of individual parcels because it would have been impractical to repeat them several times over for the multiple properties covered in the form-based codes.
Another developer, Jeremy Tabor with Tabor Management, said he supported the codes because current zoning regulations in the MSU-Starkville corridors make the kinds of developments the city would like to see difficult. Alvin Turner spoke against both the form-based codes and the new land-use chart, saying the changes could cause unintentional harm and drive businesses away. At the end of the hearing on the land-use chart, Vaughn said he wanted to follow on Turner’s point.
“We keep telling people what they can do with their property and what they can’t do with their property,” Vaughn said. “We’re running business away; we’re running jobs away.”
In discussion of the land-use chart, Parker said he was concerned about the new chart limiting the use of property for payday loan businesses to conditional use in few zones. City Planner Ben Griffith said the existing payday loan businesses would be grandfathered in, but Parker said he was still concerned about them no longer being able to expand or do anything else requiring a building permit.
“You’ve got some businesses in town that may have been in one location 20 or 30 years,” Parker said. “I’m not a big fan of these types of businesses, but in reality, they could provide a lot of rent for a lot of retail space in this town. I think that’s too restricted, in my opinion.”
The city enacted a moratorium on the establishment of new payday loan businesses in Starkville starting in January 2010. Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said when the moratorium was enacted, the number of payday loan businesses in Starkville had surged to 22. Sistrunk said there needed to be a measure to prevent that number from surging higher.
“In looking at what other cities have done to try to control this sort of business, there have been all sorts of things,” Sistrunk said. “I think this is about as middle-of-the-road as we could come to.”
Later, the board held a vote to extend the moratorium, which was tied 3-3 with Ben Carver absent from the meeting and Vaughn, Parker and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins against. Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman cast the tie-breaking vote in favor.

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