By STEVEN NALLEY
A series of efforts to revamp municipal departments and infrastructure and to develop a unique identity for Starkville defined the year in city government.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said he considered one of the year’s biggest stories to be a bond referendum to fund a new police facility, which voters rejected in September. It marked the end of a process which took nearly two years, he said, including assessments by a citizen’s municipal complex committee, multiple public hearings and extensive discussion by the Starkville Board of Aldermen.
“The bond referendum failing was certainly disappointing to all of us that had worked to try to build a project that the community could get behind,” Wiseman said. “That one didn’t turn out as I hoped it would, but I think that leaves us with the opportunity to renew our efforts.”
Despite its failure, Wiseman said the bond referendum was part of important progress the city made on its strategic plan in 2011, progress he said he was excited to see.
“We’re advancing toward the completion of our capital improvement plan, which was an important objective,” Wiseman said. “We have now had our first full year of operation with the revamped sanitation and environmental services department, which was a process that consumed a good bit of the first two years reorganizing that department, and also reorganizing the building department (by) bringing in a building official and an assistant city planner.”
With the help of the Mississippi Main Street Association, the city also conducted a charrette, a design process focused on market analysis, branding and marketing, design and planning, and implementation strategies. One of the key results of the charrette was the city’s decision to hire Placemakers, LLC to develop form-based codes for corridors between the city and Mississippi State University.
Form-based codes would set focused architectural guidelines in areas to encourage certain types of land use, allowing developers to build better projects with fewer administrative steps. The planning and zoning commission extensively discussed the codes in the latter half of the year, along with a new, more streamlined land-use chart for Placemakers to coordinate with.
Wiseman said the charrette and Placemakers have also helped build a brand for the city.
“Part of the charrette process was getting a logo and slogan that tell the world in a quick snapshot what we want to say about ourselves,” Wiseman said. “I believe with the new logo and the ‘Mississippi’s College Town’ slogan, we’ve done that. That dovetails nicely with the form-based codes process. (Placemakers) spent a great deal of time with our citizens learning about our community and developing an instrument that hopefully is going to lead to much future growth and development in downtown Starkville.”
Lynn Spruill, Starkville chief administrative officer, said changes in the building department are closely intertwined with such major planning projects as the form-based codes. For instance, because the city now has a building inspector, she said City Planner Ben Griffith now has more time to focus on planning, which is his area of expertise.
Spruill also said the city has made positive progress on capital improvement projects despite limited funds.
“I think the opening of Garrard Road was a major completion of an east-west corridor,” Spruill said. “The opening of Fire Station No. 5 is a large achievement, and we are looking forward to that asset working to the benefit of the city.”
Early in the year, the city also brought an end to a debate on its sidewalk ordinance which began in 2010 with Rudy Johnson’s request for a variance for the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District building. Aldermen passed an ordinance exemption for four streets in the GTPDD area, but Wiseman vetoed the exemption in February, and that veto was not challenged. In April, Wiseman said, the city did pass an amendment to the sidewalk ordinance creating a variance process.
“It allows for a process for someone to seek a variance due to either extreme topographical issues or extreme economic conditions,” Wiseman said. “If it’s unrealistic for someone to put a sidewalk in, then they can make their case for a variance.”