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Urban renewal raises questions

June 12, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Members of the Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission raised questions during a presentation at its meeting Tuesday on a proposed urban renewal plan for districts falling under the city’s form-based codes.

Tripp Muldrow, a consultant with Arnett Muldrow and Associates, said Mississippi code requires the city to adopt this plan before it can empower a redevelopment authority to own property, establish public-private partnerships, issue bonds and use other powers set forth in the code. These powers are broad, he said, but there are some powers the code allows that he advises the city not to give the redevelopment authority, such as taxing authority and eminent domain.

“We’re not touching (those powers) with a 10-foot pole,” Muldrow said. “I don’t recommend it. (Another) of the things the plan (draft) does not do — and it (excludes) it deliberately — is it does not talk about demolishing and replacing houses. We don’t want this authority getting into the housing business.”

A key question arose concerning a map included with Muldrow’s plan draft outlining which parcels in the form-based code districts are “standard,” “vacant,” require “minor repair” or require “major repair.” Commissioner Ira Loveless said some of the buildings classified as needing major repair were currently under renovations.

“Some buildings on here have been defined as substandard, and they’re some of the best buildings we’ve got,” Loveless said.

Muldrow said the map has not been finalized, and the redevelopment authority’s steering committee is actually considering leaving the map off, as state statute does not mandate showing conditions site by site.
“Our objective is to basically create an area that is facilitating redevelopment,” Muldrow said. “If we’re offending anyone, that’s not a helpful thing to do.”

Muldrow said he also does not like the term “urban renewal;” he prefers the term “conservation area” as set forth in codes from other states where he has worked on redevelopment authorities. Those states have updated their language where Mississippi has not, he said, and as such, the city’s own urban renewal plan uses the same language for legal reasons.

“We are in some ways handcuffed by language in the statute,” Muldrow said. “We’re dealing with an early ’70s ... set of terminology. Your statute still reads not only ‘blight,’ but also ‘slum’ and ‘blight.’ I felt like ‘blight’ would be the less offensive word (for building code compliance issues.) Downtown, I don’t think anyone would characterize the core blocks as ‘blighted;’ however, almost all the sidewalks are not (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant.”

Muldrow also discussed several other redevelopment authorities throughout the state, in such cities as Gulfport, Tupelo, Canton and Pascagoula. These redevelopment authorities serve as intermediaries between the public and private sector, he said, and in Starkville’s case, they could consolidate several city functions to better handle such major projects as the Cotton Mill project.

“Typically a redevelopment authority, rather than multiple points of contact, would be a single point of contact (for private enterprise),” Muldrow said. “My understanding is (the city of Starkville) wanted to explore the possibility of having a centralized root that could handle complex projects.”

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