By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Board of Aldermen rejected a multi-family corporate housing project for the Thad Cochran Research Park when aldermen raised concerns about the lack of provision for such a development in the city’s recently adopted land use chart.
Clyde Pritchard came before the board Tuesday to request a conditional use permit in the research park’s planned office (PO) zone for 300 Traditions, a 40-residence complex aimed at enabling gasoline-free transportation between home and work for research park employees, particularly guest researchers from outside America. The Starkville Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the board approve the 300 Traditions request on Oct. 9.
When the request came up, Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas asked City Attorney Chris Latimer why 300 Traditions was traveling under conditional use rather than the more rigorous rezoning process. The reason for this question, he said, arose from the city’s chart of permitted and conditional uses, which the city updated less than a year ago.
“When I looked at our new chart of permitted uses, under ‘planned office,’ there is not a currently allowed conditional use for residential,” Dumas said.
Latimer said 300 Traditions was traveling under a catch-all clause in the land use chart legislation as recommended by Ben Griffith before he left the city planner position in October. He said this clause lets the board of aldermen review any land use not specifically addressed in the chart or city code as a conditional use at the board’s pleasure.
Then, Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said the land use chart made it clear the city did not anticipate residential use in a PO zone.
“I think it’s fairly clear that since that was a recently adopted document, and since we didn’t address the idea of residential units in a planned office area, that (it) was not the intent to have that sort of development in a planned office area,” Sistrunk said.
Dumas said he shared Sistrunk’s concern. While he does believe mixed land use in the research park is warranted, he said, he was also concerned about the site plan, particularly its impact on the view of the research park from Miss. Highway 12.
“It bothers me that we spent so much time on that chart of permitted uses and, knowing that the research park was our only planned office development, (this type of use) was completely excluded,” Dumas said.
Sistrunk said she is not opposed to mixed use either, but she does not believe the city is ready for such a mix of residential and commercial use. She also said there might be better uses for the proposed 300 Traditions site in light of the city’s recent agreement to establish a Golden Triangle tri-county economic development agency in 2014.
“That space would be prime space for potential economic development,” Sistrunk said.
Pritchard said the zoning commissioners he spoke with were not only in favor of 300 Traditions but also more residential development in the research park’s upcoming second phase.
“This is what I came to Starkville to do, and this is the path we were put on,” Pritchard said. “We have put considerable time and expense into getting to here and now.”
Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker then said the aldermen needed to consider 300 Traditions’ unanimous approval by both the zoning commission and the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority. He said it disheartens developers when they make plans and get approval from the zoning commission only for the city to reject them.
“It’s just this kind of thing that has put us in such a negative light in the development community,” Parker said. “I personally see (300 Traditions) as a great mixed use development and a great asset.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver joined Parker in his support.
“In layman’s terms,” Carver said, “this is just a cool project, and I hope it passes.”
Ultimately, the board rejected Pritchard’s request 4-2, with Parker and Carver in favor and everyone else against except for Dumas, who abstained from the vote and expressed sympathy for Pritchard beforehand.
“It bothers me a great deal that we’ve got such a loose bit of language (in the land use chart),” Dumas said before the vote. “Perhaps that slipped through the cracks. I apologize that it’s your project that’s exposing this.”