By KELLY DANIELS
Local residents burning calories on a mile-long loop street built for research facilities may finally have a safer option.
Dr. Ron Cossman has reported to Starkville's Transportation Committee that a two-lane pedestrian path around Research Boulevard in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park for cyclists and those on foot would cost the City of Starkville about $30,000.
Dr. Cossman, who wrote a state grant for the Lynn Lane bike path and championed the Safe Routes to School project, called for a public hearing for tenants of the park, which consists of about 1,500 workers, to take place next month.
Members of Starkville in Motion list the Research Park on its list of 10 streets most in need of sidewalks.
Members of the Transportation Committee gave their support for what they called a volunteer effort to make the loop safer for walkers and people who use alternative modes of transportation.
"I think the need for it is there," said Joseph Fratesi, who serves on the committee. "It's being used as an exercise facility."
Committee chair Jim Gafford said that the park's four-lane road is somewhat dangerous as it is, because it has nothing to tell the pedestrians without sidewalks where to walk.
If officials approve Cossman's proposal, the path could later connect to Mississippi State University's entrance from Highway 182, he said.
The City of Starkville, however, may have to bear the cost as MSU has yet to volunteer sharing the load.
Cossman presented two options that would cut the cost in half: A lane for pedestrians only on the inside and outside of the road or letting cyclists continue sharing the road with vehicles.
When the park was built 20 years ago, developers did not see the need for sidewalks and envisioned greater density with buildings six stories high, Cossman explained.
Since then, MSU students, faculty and local residents have driven out to the park to walk, run, ride bicycles and push strollers along each side of the road, while members of the Transportation Committee worry when the first accident will occur.
Ordinance language on variances change
After yet another public debate on the need for sidewalks throughout the city, the committee agreed to change language in the city's sidewalk ordinance to provide a bit more lenience for property owners.
The current ordinance mandates sidewalks with new development and major renovations in hopes of a safer more connected city for pedestrians.
One of the proposed resolutions to the problem of high costs of building sidewalks as a result of topographical conditions was to grant variances if the cost per linear foot totals more than three times the average value per linear foot.
"I think in the spirit of compromise, we should lower that," Dr. Bethany Stich said.
The committee agreed to lower that cost variable to two times the average value.
Addressing concerns brought to the committee by Robert J. Allen about more specifically defining "development," Gafford said that the city's code of ordinance already specifies the meaning of that word for consistency's sake.
"Everything that's in the ordinance has been vetted by the city," Gafford explained. "We don't come up with new definitions."
Still, those siding with Rudy Johnson, executive director of the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, on his argument that his proposed Senior Enrichment Center should be exempt from the ordinance contend that the committee should rescind the document and write an entirely new one.
"Seniors are not against sidewalks," said Georgia Murphy, who volunteers at the enrichment center currently housed at the GTPDD. "But, you just can't say, 'Abracadabra, let's have sidewalks everywhere,' and have that happen," she added, referring to the idea that the newly built center would have an unconnected sidewalk.
David Hoffman, vice president of Starkville in Motion, encouraged committee members to hold steady with the ordinance's objectivity despite tests from private interests.
"I understand they might threaten you by taking away their capital, but I say good riddance," he said.
Jeremy Murdock, who serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission said developers already comply with building codes and parking space requirements that are more costly altogether than sidewalk development.
Murdock also argued that regulations such as sidewalk ordinances do not repel new development and industry.
"If lack of regulations attracted development, we'd have a lot more development in the county," he said, adding that the City of Hernando enforces strict design guidelines and is one of the fastest growing cities in the state.
Cossman brought to the committee nearly 30 letters collected by members of Starkville in Motion defending the ordinance.
"It is only fair that we accommodate people without vehicles," wrote Jackie Hudson.
"We need developers to help us in getting from here to there," wrote Megan Bean.
The Transportation Committee will meet again on Dec. 9.