By KELLY DANIELS
A proposal to relieve Starkville’s industrial park from city sidewalk ordinance requirements has generated debate and scrutiny from residents and pedestrian activists.
That proposal again saw much discussion during the first of two public hearings on the issue before the Starkville Board of Aldermen
At the request from Golden Triangle Planning and Development District director, Rudy Johnson, who plans to build a facility for the Senior Enrichment Center, the Starkville Board of Aldermen will consider granting him and the entire industrial park an exemption from the city’s law requiring sidewalks with development. The park includes areas along Miley Drive, Pollard Road, Industrial Road and Airport Road.
“Looking at these businesses (located in the industrial park), I don’t see how we could possibly consider this an industrial area,” said Mark Duncan, president of Starkville in Motion, a local group promoting pedestrian and bicycle access and safety.
Duncan reported that he took pictures of the park’s businesses that were not industrial.
They included the following: An AT&T office, the Oktibbeha County Central Shop, the Starkville Community Church, NAPA Auto Parts, Interstate Battery, a cabinet shop, an engineering firm, a rental car service, a fire station, Mobility Medical Inc., SERVPRO, a pet supply store, the GTPDD, a party rental and supply facility, a gymnastics academy and the Oktibbeha County Co-Op.
In response, founding senior center volunteer Jim McKell said Duncan failed to mention the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., Flexsteel Industries Inc. and other manufacturers, located in the park.
McKell argued that a sidewalk at the senior center’s proposed location would start and end at a ditch and block drainage, while the nearest continuing sidewalk is 1.6 miles away and is in poor condition.
“Reasonable, logical thought is necessary here, and I ask that you be reasonable,” McKell said.
Former alderman Rodney Lincoln, reporting his career in the Industrial Park to last 22 years, said he rarely sees pedestrians in the Industrial Park.
“I can count more deer in the road than I could can count people walking in the industrial park,” Lincoln added, warning that pedestrian activity in the area could create safety problems. “I’d be best not to have sidewalks in that area.”
Having publicly refused to include sidewalks into his plans to build the senior center with threats to relocate his agency from the city, Johnson deplored the lack of progress on his facility’s construction, a building he said could be halfway built in six months.
“This board should be wanting to work with me wanting to spend $1.6 million in Starkville for a place for our seniors to go,” he said. “They want it, I want it and I hope this board wants it, because it’s needed.”
Supporting Johnson’s request, Ward 6 Alderman Roy Á. Perkins said he was not convinced that the park needed sidewalks and that there was no data supporting that need.
But opponents contend that the city has no data to deny them either.
Transportation committee member Chris Gottbrath asked officials to order a traffic count of both pedestrians and vehicles, as opposed to what he called an unfair, arbitrary exemption to the ordinance without having gone through a fact-based process.
“Can we not consider the geography of this area, what two regions this (area) connects?” Gottbrath asked. “In general, how is the city going to react to the next developer who thinks the city laws that apply to the rest of the community should not apply to them?” he said.
As Ward 2’s representative on the Transportation Committee, Gottbrath said that Industrial Road serves pedestrians as the shortest path from apartments on Lynn Lane to shopping centers on Highway 12.
Transportation Committee chairman Jim Gafford criticized the argument that because of sidewalk requirements, the city could not have a senior center.
Calling for a balanced and comprehensive network for pedestrians, Gafford gave deference to the necessity of a variance process included in the ordinance, agreeing that not every street needs a sidewalk.
“But creating an exclusionary zone without developing further policies and ordinances that enact vision for what we want an area to develop into is shortsighted,” he said.
Gafford called for cohesive vision among the board for how the city develops.
“I encourage you, as people who have been elected — that is really your job,” he said.
In effort to save the board’s time, Mayor Parker Wiseman warned during a previous meeting that he would veto board approval of exempting the industrial park from the sidewalk ordinance, though a formal vote has yet to be taken.
In the middle of a long statement, Perkins criticized editorials and articles in local newspapers stating that the board has circumvented the transportation committee’s process of drafting a variance process for the ordinance before it could formulate a recommendation.
The Transportation Committee has held two public hearings while drafting language for a variance process. The panel’s members reported they planned to present a revision to the ordinance in January. The committee has yet to send a formal recommendation for the Board of Aldermen.
“The board is not bound by any decision from any committee,” Perkins said. “We are the elected officials.”
Perkins called such editorials “smokescreens,” because the board dishonors recommendations from committees on many occasions.
“If there’s somebody at the press who wants to serve at this table, they need to run for the Board of Aldermen,” he said. “We are the governing body; the newspaper does not run this city.”
Quick loan business ban sees extension for a year
Payday lenders shouldn’t bother locating to Starkville for another year, the Board of Aldermen agreed Tuesday.
In a 6-1 vote, the board approved an extension of the moratorium enacted in January to place a cap on the 20 fast-loan offices having rapidly sprouted in the city.
Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker voted against extending the moratorium.
The extension will last a year or until officials complete the city’s comprehensive plan, which city officials describe as a visionary tool for development in Starkville.