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Dumas presents form-based code details to public

January 4, 2012

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas joined Placemakers representative Nathan Norris in a presentation of the “Downtown/MSU Corridors” form-based codes at Tuesday’s meeting of the Starkville Board of Aldermen at City Hall.
Form-based codes set more focused architectural guidelines than typical zoning regulations to encourage certain types of land use in specific areas, allowing developers to build better projects with fewer administrative steps. Dumas said the codes combine restrictions on such matters as setbacks, height, lot coverage, landscaping and parking into a single document.
“It puts them in a common code so that we can begin to process these individually and in a uniform manner,” Dumas said. “There’s really no more in the process of requirement, but it does so in a manner that is more development-friendly and more uniform.”
Dumas said some of the most important changes form-based codes would bring are changes to parking rules. New and substantially renovated developments would no longer be able to put parking in front of their buildings, he said. Instead, he said, parking would be relegated to a “third layer” 20 feet behind the front of the development.
“It helps from the aesthetic side,” Dumas said. “(Instead of) looking at the backs of cars in a parking lot, you begin looking at building fronts; you begin looking at landscape; you begin to look at things that are more aesthetically pleasing than a sea of parking.”
Dumas also discussed the three types of transect zones used in the form-based codes, with T-4 indicating the least intense use, T-5 indicating moderate use and T-6 indicating heavy use. Residential property in T-4 zones would see another significant change, he said. Regulations in R-1 zoning currently require residential buildings to be set back 25 feet from roadways, but T-4 regulations reduce that requirement to 6 feet.
“It allows developers to add density to the site,” Dumas said. “We see that as a good thing from a price point standpoint, with how expensive land is becoming in Starkville.”
The parking restrictions in the form-based codes exclude public parking and the area of downtown Starkville currently zoned C-3 commercial, Dumas said. These exceptions mean downtown businesses currently not required to provide parking still will not have to under the form-based codes, he said.
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman opened the floor to questions for Norris and Dumas after the presentation, even though he said it was not normal protocol to do so for public hearings. Both the form-based codes and a proposed new land-use chart saw their second public hearings at the meeting.
One of the questions asked of Norris was why more of the Cotton District was not included in the form-based codes. Norris said the form-based codes were designed to deal primarily with corridors between the city and Mississippi State University, resulting in ancillary areas of the Cotton District being excluded.
“If you want to throw that in later, you can always do that,” Norris said.
The board also held a public hearing on a proposed new land-use chart, created for greater ease of use and better coordination with the form-based codes. The primary topic in the board’s discussion was payday loan businesses.
City Attorney Chris Latimer said the board needed to reconsider its previous decision to limit payday loan businesses to conditional use in M-1 manufacturing zones. Because conditional uses require approval from the aldermen at the planning and zoning commission’s recommendation, future payday loan businesses could depend on the whims of present and future boards for their livelihood, putting the city in a tenuous legal situation.
Ultimately, because Dumas put the land-use chart before the board, the aldermen and mayor decided to let him amend the chart without a vote. The amendment will make payday loan businesses permitted by right in an M-1 zone and conditional in a C-2 commercial zone, allowing existing payday loan businesses to petition the city for the right to expand their facilities.
Latimer said the board will be able to take action on both the form-based codes and the land-use chart at its next meeting Jan. 17.

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