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High-density zoning appeal fails by 1 vote

June 8, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

An appeal to rezone 12.45 acres of property west of the Maison de Ville subdivision for a high-density residential community failed Tuesday during the Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting.

The board actually voted 4-3 in favor of 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 three to eight dwelling units for Mississippi State University students. However, City Attorney Chris Latimer said the rezoning request required a super-majority of five votes under Mississippi code, and as a result, it still failed.

“If 20 percent or more of the property owners within 160 feet of the area that’s being proposed for rezoning object by signing, that triggers a three-fifths voting requirement,” Latimer said. “The action would have to be approved by three-fifths of the aldermen.”

In this case, City Planner Ben Griffith said 10 of 15 property owners within 160 feet of the area had objected. On May 8, the planning and zoning commission voted 4-1 against the rezoning request in response to strong objection from Maison de Ville residents.

“Several letters and emails from area property owners opposed to the zoning request were presented to the zoning commission and are included with your packets,” Griffith said. “Provided at the mayor and aldermen’s seats this evening are additional letters the planning office received after the board packets were prepared on Friday.”

The appellant, Parkway Development Inc. President Richard Ambrosino, said he was not aiming Georgian Square exclusively at MSU students. He said the project would also offer affordable living space for young adults in their late 20s and early 30s who cannot afford houses. At the May 8 zoning meeting, some residents expressed fears that such a large rezoning would provide legal precedent for other rezonings in the vicinity, and Ambrosino said those fears were unjustified.

“We’re not saying all the land owned by the Josey family needs to be changed from C-2 to R-5,” Ambrosino said. “We’re not saying (the area would become all student housing or residential units).”

Ambrosino said he was also trying to provide the same kind of student housing he would want his own children to have.

“I’ve already went through this with my children,” Ambrosino said. “We nurtured them ... (and) made the decision ... they would live where they would be safe.”

Several residents of Maison de Ville attended the meeting to raise objections, some returning after a previous appearance at the May 8 meeting. One returning objector was Craig Adams, who said he was concerned not only about the development’s potential impact on his property at Maison de Ville but also its impact on Flexsteel Industries, where he is a manager. Adams said he has to move materials across Industrial Park Road several times a day, and growing traffic flow has made this movement increasingly difficult.

“It’s hard to get an automobile out on Industrial Park Road, much less a tractor trailer,” Adams said. “I have concerns that, inevitably, this development will add more traffic flow.”

In his rebuttal, Ambrosino said Lynn Lane, perpendicular to Industrial Park Road, was originally designed as a boulevard. Other objectors said high-density student housing complexes belonged further away from the center of town, and Ambrosino said these objectors needed to be more sensitive to the hardship this mode of thinking causes for college students.

“They are you people, just a little bit younger,” Ambrosino said. “Think back on your youth.”

Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said she saw both sides of the issue. As someone who has rented property in the past, she said, she believes location is critical for attracting potential renters.

“I’ve thought long and hard about this,” Sistrunk said. “Ultimately, what we have to decide tonight is whether the rezoning is appropriate. That would hinge on whether there’s been a change in the character of the neighborhood and whether there is a public need (for the type of development Ambrosino proposes).”

Sistrunk ultimately voted in favor of the rezoning, together with Aldermen Jeremiah Dumas, Roy A. Perkins and Henry N. Vaughn. The other aldermen voted against the measure, preventing its passage.

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