By PAUL SIMS
Starkville is one step closer to a revamped ordinance to include a variance process where adding sidewalks might be cost-prohibitive.
The Board of Aldermen held a public hearing Tuesday on the proposed changes, which came about after representatives of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District objected last year to the city’s requirement for those planning new developments to add sidewalks.
The GTPDD intends to add a senior center to its property in the city’s southwestern segment, an area thought of by some as an industrial district and others as a business center with the need for safe access to employment.
While aldermen did not vote on the matter Tuesday, they did entertain comments from those both for and against the measure.
The revised ordinance gives the city’s Board of Adjustments and Appeals the ability to hear variance requests, with “sole criteria to be evaluated in granting variance shall be that the cost of constructing the sidewalk constitutes an undue hardship,” the ordinance as proposed reads.
The new language defines an undue hardship as one in which the sidewalk construction cost is more than twice an arrived-upon quarterly construction bid average.
It also grants exceptions where installing a sidewalk would mean uprooting an endangered plant type and no re-routing can take place and in cases where such construction would place a negative impact on the archaeological, architectural and historical value of a site.
Ward 2 Alderwoman and Vice Mayor Sandra Sistrunk filled in for Mayor Parker Wiseman in his absence as he was in Washington, D.C., appearing on behalf of public utilities with Starkville Electric Department Manager Terry Kemp.
In opening the floor for public comment, Sistrunk said: “Please bear in mind that the ordinance as it was originally written was written to encourage the development of a system of sidewalks across the city over time. We realize this is not a quick fix.”
She also clarified that the amended ordinance calls for a variance process, not a variance for a particular project, and “that will live with us past any one project.”
Georgia Murphy, a Ward 3 resident, says the word “vision” keeps coming up and the “vision we’ll see for the next many, many decades is bits and pieces of sidewalks that do not connect to each other. ... Cost should be only one part of the consideration for granting a variance. ... If the city would show a good faith effort by funding and constructing sidewalks in areas of most critical need, it would make would make so much sense. ... Forcing citizens to do something that they cannot see a common-sense reason for is not a sound basis for governing.”
Mark Duncan, the president of Starkville in Motion, says the city has made a good faith effort in working with existing sidewalks through downtown and other parts of the city.
“I think the city has done a good job” in taking the first step in improving Starkville’s walkability and “I think this ordinance helps us to continue that trend,” Duncan said. “I think things can only get better.”
City officials intend to hold another public hearing on the ordinance.
Editor’s note: Please see Thursday’s edition of the newspaper for additional coverage from Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting.