By KELLY DANIELS
The often-heated debate over pedestrian access in Starkville is nowhere close to an end.
With plans to build a facility for Starkville’s Senior Enrichment Center, the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District has asked for exemption from the city’s ordinance requiring sidewalks with new development.
After turning other developers down, some city officials support exempting the $9 million agency from the ordinance after its executive director, Rudy Johnson, made a finger-pointing “promise” to take the GTPDD out of Starkville if he had to build $25,000 worth sidewalks along the senior center, which would be located in the industrial park.
The Starkville Board of Aldermen asked the appointed Transportation Committee to include a variance process in the ordinance based on research and comments from local residents.
Since then, the committee has met twice and discussed the issue at length, but without notifying its members, the Board of Aldermen will consider on Tuesday whether to hold its own hearings on exempting
areas in the industrial park from future sidewalk ordinance requirements.
This consideration was proposed by Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, who has publicly suggested a “prioritized list” of streets that should be exempt from the ordinance regulations.
The streets listed on Tuesday’s agenda include Industrial Road, Miley Drive, Pollard Road and Airport Road.
Carver could not be reached for comment Saturday on the proposal on Tuesday’s agenda.
Mayor Parker Wiseman worries that circumventing the Transportation Committee’s process of developing a variance process would pose a problem.
“It’s just not a clean way to consider which properties should be exempt from the sidewalk ordinance,” he said. “My recommendation would be to let the Transportation Committee to make a recommendation to the board on the variance process.”
Some aldermen already expect a 4-3 vote in favor of Carver’s proposal.
Under what he says is pressure from other officials to change his mind, Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey, who approved adoption of the sidewalk ordinance in 2009, fears that granting Johnson’s request would set a dangerous precedent, arbitrarily allowing other developers exception.
Vice Mayor Sandra Sistrunk has similar concerns.
“We had a process in place where we had referred this to a Transportation Committee for a recommendation,” Sistrunk said. “I would rather the process be followed to whatever extent possible.”
Other aldermen were unavailable for comment.
Members of the Transportation Committee worry that citizens voicing concerns at their meetings will be confused about where their comments matter most.
People supporting sidewalks as compared to those who support an exception for the GTPDD have a ratio of 7 to 1, the committee reported.
Committee chair Jim Gafford said that members have been working on their assignment from the board as expeditiously as possible.
“If they wanted us to be finished by a certain time, they should have made it known,” Gafford said.
Transportation specialist Bethany Stich said no one from the Board of Aldermen notified the committee about Tuesday’s proposal.
“Nothing has been coordinated,” Gafford added.
Chris Gottbrath, who also serves on the committee, said that supporters reported that they often see pedestrians and cyclists in the industrial park.
“Not everyone can afford a car,” he said. “And that’s a good reason not to exempt the industrial park from sidewalks.”
Gafford argues that the industrial park is currently designated as an area of manufacturing — not industrial — land uses, similar to many along Highway 12.
The Board of Aldermen will meet on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. in the City Hall courtroom on Lampkin Street.