By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend denial of rezoning 12.45 acres of property west of the Maison de Ville subdivision and approval of First United Methodist Church’s exception from form-based code regulations at its meeting Tuesday at City Hall.
The commission voted 4-1, with Jason Walker against and Jeremy Murdock absent, to oppose the zoning change from C-2 (general business) to R-5 (multi-family, high-density residential) for Georgian Square, a gated, upscale community with structures each containing 3-8 dwelling units for Mississippi State University students.
The commission voted unanimously to grant FUMC’s request to use a building at the intersection of Washington Street and Lampkin Street as a facility for its contemporary worship service, “Pathways.” This request would require the city to make an exception to the form-based codes it passed in January, but it generated minimal discussion compared with Pritchard’s request.
Pritchard appeared at the meeting but left most discussion to his consultant for the project, Richard Ambrosino, Parkway Development Incorporated president. Ambrosino gave an extensive presentation on plans for the buildings and said he hoped the presentation would assuage worries residents of Maison de Ville expressed in letters to the city before the meeting.
Ambrosino said Georgian Square would aim for a higher standard of living than other student housing previously seen in Starkville, with brick where others use vinyl and wood and either gates or high-resolution camera systems around the community, for instance.
The plans also intentionally leave out one acre immediately to Maison de Ville’s west as a buffer zone between the two properties, which will remain a C-2 zone, he said.
Ambrosino said the complex would fill a growing need for student housing MSU is set to generate as its admissions grow. He said even though tuition rates are rising, MSU’s programs will remain a bargain compared with other schools throughout the country.
After the presentation, commission chair Jerry Emison opened the floor to public comment. Four people with ties to Maison de Ville commented in opposition, starting with John W. Hartlein, Maison de Ville Association president.
Harlein said he was concerned about future developers using Georgian Square to justify future R-5 rezonings in the Lynn Lane area for developments at lower standards than the ones Ambrosino presented.
“It’s not about the bricks and mortar ... what we’re concerned about is the student housing element and the piggyback effect this is going to have on Lynn Lane and changing the character of the neighborhood,” Hartlein said. “If this were to happen, I’d feel like I’ve been baited and switched. My homeowners are comfortable with what’s there now. It’s incomprehensible and one of my worst nightmares right now that we have student housing right next door to Maison de Ville. I still have lots of houses to build there, and I’m very concerned about that.”
Craig Adams, a resident of Maison de Ville, said he has nothing against student housing, but he does not want his property devalued by student housing next door. As manager of Flexsteel Industries, Adams said he was also concerned about growing traffic flowing between campus and Industrial Park Road, and he opposed any development which would increase that traffic flow.
When the time came for the commission to deliberate, Emison said he wanted to make it clear that the land use change was at the core of the discussion.
“The nature of the construction is not a matter we should properly consider,” Emison said.
City Attorney Chris Latimer then said if the commission were to make a zoning change, it would have to base that change on an error found in the zoning map, a demonstrated public need for the rezoning or a pre-existing change in character in the neighborhood. The commission briefly discussed the possibility that municipal provisions for Lynn Lane to expand from two lanes to four in the future could represent anticipation of a change in character, but Emison said this provision for future change would not be enough to justify a rezoning today.
Commissioner Dora Herring also said the case for public need suffers because of land the city has annexed to the north between developed properties and the Highway 82 bypass. This land is zoned R-5 and has yet to be developed, she said, giving developers like Pritchard alternatives for student housing, she said.
“Traffic flow and things like that would not be a problem,” Herring said. “(That land north of the city) would seem like a more appropriate location to me.”
Once the commission voted to recommend denial of the request, Latimer said the applicant, Clyde Pritchard, now has five days to appeal the decision to the Starkville Board of Aldermen, which will make the final decision to approve or deny the request. Latimer said an appeal would protect Pritchard’s right to another public hearing at the aldermen’s meeting.