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Mayor announces intent to veto sidewalk exemption

January 8, 2011

By KELLY DANIELS
citybeat@bellsouth.net

Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman’s expected veto of the industrial park’s exemption from sidewalk ordinance requirements will arrive in February, a notice of intent confirmed Friday.
In a 4-3 split Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen approved exempting areas in what is called the city’s industrial Park — Miley Drive, Airport Road, Pollard Road and Industrial Park Roads — from requirements in the city’s sidewalk ordinance.
Ward 2 Alderwoman and Vice Mayor Sandra Sistrunk, Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas and Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey voted against the action
At the advice of City Attorney Chris Latimer citing state law, Wiseman will not issue the veto until after the board adopts the minutes of Tuesday’s meeting — an action they are scheduled to consider on Feb. 1.
Tuesday’s vote came after a long public debate about whether to grant an exception for the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District’s plans for a new facility or to establish an objective variance process in the sidewalk ordinance.
While all officials agreed that the law adopted in 2009 needed a variance process, the philosophical split occurred when GTPDD director Rudy Johnson publicly warned that he would move his business out of the city if he had to build a $25,000 unconnected sidewalk for a $1.6 million facility.
But the mayor had a warning of his own weeks ago before the exception was proposed.
To save the board time, Wiseman said he would veto its proposed amendment, stating that the blanket exemption does not address the need for an impartial variance process.
According to Friday’s notice, a “common thread” found in 2004 among residents’ suggestions for improvement was that the city should require sidewalks with new development, officials found after holding a series of public forums in each ward. Five years later, the Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance meeting that wish.
“The sidewalk ordinance, along with increased investment in sidewalks by the City, is pushing Starkville to
become a more pedestrian friendly community,” Friday’s notice reads.
“Nevertheless, the ordinance does need to be more flexible than its current form. There should be a clearly defined, objective process for seeking variance or exemption from the requirements of the ordinance.”
Wiseman went on to say that Tuesday’s amendment does not establish such a process, but offers a blanket exemption from the requirements of the law to property located on four streets.
“Such an exemption is unfair to owners and developers of property on all other streets in the city who must still abide by the law,” he said. “Ultimately, the exemption is unfair to the citizens of this community who faithfully rely upon the City to establish the law in a manner that extends the same justice to everyone.”
Following the Board of Aldermen’s orders over two months ago, the Board of Aldermen’s appointed Transportation Committee conducted research and held public hearings of their own to gauge public opinion on creating language in the sidewalk ordinance that would establish a sound variance system, which members would present this year. But a majority of the aldermen voted to act before the Transportation Committee presents its recommendations and called for public hearings of its own, proposing an exemption of its own.
Wiseman wrote Friday that he hopes the Transportation Committee will work to establish an objective process by which the citizens may receive a fair hearing to determine whether variance or exemption from the requirements of the sidewalk ordinance is merited.
“I am confident in our ability to establish such a process while continuing our march toward becoming a more pedestrian friendly community,” Wiseman said.

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