By NATHAN GREGORY
A second public hearing on amending the city’s current sidewalk ordinance Tuesday didn’t draw as varied reaction from citizens as it did from Starkville Board of Aldermen members themselves.
The board voted against modifying the ordinance currently on the books to exempt areas not conducive to pedestrian traffic in a 4-3 vote. Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker and Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas were the three votes in favor of the changes.
One of the proposed revisions, numbered as 4.8 in the board’s e-packet, makes specific exemptions for the west side of Industrial Park Road and the entirety of Pollard Road, Miley Road and Airport Road.
That revision caused confusion because it was included in the ordinance supplied under the public hearing portion of the board’s e-packet while absent from the version included under the board business portion.
Dumas said he’s already cleared up the language and the board will hold a third public hearing on a clean version of the proposed amendments at the board’s June 5 meeting. Parliamentary procedure allows such a hearing even after a vote fails.
“One of my colleagues added 4.8 to the ordinance, and I was concerned that language would cause confusion because 4.8 specifies certain roads and there are countless other roads that are also not included in the sidewalk area. I thought it was cleaner from a policy side that the language be removed. The real confusion was in our packet. We have staff reports for each agenda item, and so the ordinance that was presented last night with the public hearing agenda item was the ordinance with all the red lines, all the edits, all the changes (and) everything associated with the workings of this ordinance since I first amended it,” Dumas said. “We have to approve a clean version of the ordinance, so the ordinance that was shown as part of the board business agenda item for accepting the ordinance was a clean version that didn’t have 4.8 in it. It just boiled down to the fact that not everybody saw the clean version, therefore there was confusion. There was a ‘no’ vote because there were folks that wanted to have that clean version in their hand — not because they were fundamentally opposed.”
Local property owner Chuck Scarborough was one of two citizens who provided a comment against the proposed amendments at the second hearing. Scarborough owns undeveloped parcels in the Industrial Park area which would not be exempt from sidewalk development due to its proximity to the city’s regional Medicaid office. He read emails he sent as well as a reply from Dumas in his comments.
“Part of my land is located on the west side of the Sportsplex and borders on the west side of Spruill Industrial Road … If the city wants to have a sidewalk along the west side of the Sportsplex, it can build one along the east side of the ditch. You could build one along the east side of the ditch or on the west side of the ditch and east of north-south portion of Spruill Industrial Road rather than requiring me to build a sidewalk west of the north-south portion,” Scarborough said. “I fail to see any material connection between the Medicaid office and my property since my property lies south of the Medicaid office property. Since you supposedly need the sidewalks now, when do you expect me to build these sidewalks? Nobody walks along this road now that I know of. Do you have a pedestrian count?”
After reading Dumas’ reply, in which he justified mandating sidewalks on Scarborough’s parcel because it borders on a park and is on the same block as the Medicaid office, Scarborough referred to the response as “gobbledygook.”
“I think there’s strong justification for it and I take offense to the fact of what the concern is with the Medicaid office. I can’t speak for the state of Mississippi and the Department of Health … and their decision of (where they put) a Medicaid office which fundamentally services low-to-moderate income individuals. They provide great service in a city that needs great service. I can’t make excuses for them going into an industrial area and putting their facility in an area that is not conducive to the individuals they serve,” Dumas said. “I can justify the fact that I sit on the board and have served on a committee that has done everything we can to secure funding for a transit system in this community whose sole purpose … is to also fundamentally serve areas in this community who significantly need alternative transportation. We’re focusing on the areas that fundamentally need these types of services. There are multitudes of kids associated with those systems that also need fair and equal connections to sports in this town. Those individuals who don’t have cars are the same individuals who probably need to get to the Medicaid office. They’re the same individuals who need those services in those areas. This is not about your parcel; this is about a greater network.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver was one of the four votes against the amendments from a planning standpoint.
“I think this plan is bad for a lot of reasons. I think this is convoluted and complex. When you get to a meeting and you try to finalize it in the meeting, I don’t think that’s good protocol. I think everybody who votes for this has a good heart and they want sidewalks in Starkville for a good reason, but I don’t think this is the best vessel for that. My greatest fear for the city of Starkville is being a laughingstock in a planning magazine 20 years down the road when ... we still don’t have sidewalks that connect. I’m pro-sidewalk … but when you start putting bits and pieces here and there and hope they fit and hope something happens two terms down the road, I don’t think this is the best plan,” Carver said. “Probably 80 to 90 percent of businesses in Starkville are not national chains … They’re mom-and-pop (stores). What I’m hearing around town is developers are getting the word out there that … it is expensive to build here. Mom-and-pop people just cannot take a $25,000-50,000 hit before they ever open their door. That’s something the national chain can do. I personally couldn’t put up a $25,000-50,000 check for a sidewalk before I ever sold a hamburger or put somebody up in my hotel for the first night.”