By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission continued discussion of a proposed urban renewal plan for form-based code districts and recommended approval of C Spire Wireless’s plans for a new communications tower at its meeting Tuesday at City Hall.
Tripp Muldrow, a consultant with Arnett Muldrow and Associates, discussed adjustments he had made to the urban renewal plan since his previous presentation to the commission in June. The city needs to adopt such a plan before it can grant powers to a redevelopment authority, he said, and a key change to the plan he discussed was the addition of several goals for the redevelopment authority. These goals include developing a parking strategy for downtown, promoting art in public places, creating a focal point coterminous to Main Street, and more.
“What we wanted to do is put a little more meat on the bones of what the objectives of this redevelopment authority would be,” Muldrow said.
Commission chair Jerry Emison said he had asked Muldrow to add these goals after reading the plan outside the P&Z meeting setting. Both Emison and commissioner James Hicks were absent from the previous meeting.
“(The first draft) called itself a plan, but wasn’t really a plan,” Emison said. “We need some steps, expression of priorities or some specific projects, or basically you’ve just got a conferral of authority, and that’s about it. I think that’s where this new (addition) came from, and I think it’s very much needed.”
Hicks posed several questions, starting by asking Muldrow if the zoning commission needed to vote on the plan. Muldrow said statutes require no such vote; the plan only goes before the zoning commission to gather their feedback. The Starkville Board of Aldermen will have a public hearing before they vote on the redevelopment authority and the urban renewal plan, he said.
“This is not planned in a vacuum,” Muldrow said.
In the course of answering another of Hicks’ questions about one of the redevelopment authority’s powers, Muldrow said there were two specific powers the steering committee will not recommend granting to the redevelopment authority: condemnation and taxation. However, Muldrow said state law does allow redevelopment authorities to have these powers, leading commissioner Jason Walker to ask another question.
“If state statute allows that, what’s to say the next board of aldermen and people that come into the redevelopment authority (will not put those powers in place?)” Walker said. “What’s there to prevent them from utilizing those powers?”
Emison said such an amendment would require public hearings just like the redevelopment authority’s creation would. Also, City Attorney Chris Latimer was absent, and one of his fellow attorneys with Mitchell, McNutt and Sams, Jeff Turnage, acted in his stead at the meeting and added his input.
“I would assume the board of aldermen would have to amend the act to allow that to take place,” Turnage said, “but they might not get elected again (if they did).”
Hicks also asked if the redevelopment authority would act in a similar manner to Starkville Parks and Recreation, operating with their own budget without the aldermen’s approval. Muldrow said redevelopment authorities typically have their own budget, but they are accountable to city government. Hicks said this accountability was what he wanted.
“I know we’re not voting on this,” Hicks said, “(but) I want to make sure we don’t create an authority... that has loose reins with the taxpayers’ money.”
Some members of the public came to the meeting to hear Muldrow’s discussion. One of them, Mark Guyton, said afterward he wanted clearer answers about the city’s motivation for creating a development authority.
“I just haven’t seen clearly why they think we need a new bureaucracy,” Guyton said.
The commission also recommended the board of aldermen approve a 100-foot C Spire communications tower at 403 Abernathy Drive in Stark Crossing.
City Planner Ben Griffith said the approval measure passed in a 4-1 vote, with commissioner Ira Loveless voting against it.