By KELLY DANIELS
Residents of Vine Street won their first battle with a fast food restaurant looking to build a parking lot.
After years of putting up with loud noise, littering and traffic problems due to what they alleged to be the Sonic Drive-In on Highway 12 East, the neighbors protested a proposed expansion with appeals to the Board of Aldermen, which took their side in a 4-3 vote.
Developer Mark Welch was planning to build nine parking spaces on 711 Vine Street.
The spaces would be for employees but also available to the public, said Welch, who also wanted to relocate a storage building and dumpster from Vine Street to his property and enclose the dumpster with a six-foot-high wooden fence.
Welch applied for a zoning switch to C-2 (general business) zone in September but withdrew his request after the Planning and Zoning Commission advised him to apply for a B-1 (buffer district) zone and a conditional use allowing a parking lot instead. The Commission recommended both to the Board of Aldermen, which is allowed under state law to grant a zoning request if there is a change in the character of the neighborhood, a zoning map error and a public need for the rezoning.
“The public need is there,” said Ward 5 Jeremiah Dumas, adding that the character of Sonic’s “neighborhood” has changed as Highway 12 is continually changing.
Members of the board debated what is included in the Vine Street and Sonic neighborhoods, but “neighborhood” is not defined by the Mississippi Supreme Court, City Attorney Chris Latimer said.
Ward 3 Alderman Eric Parker, who voted along with Dumas and Vice Mayor Sandra Sistrunk to affirm the Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation, argued that B-1 is a sound compromise as C-2 districts nearly surround the property from the north, south and west.
“I do feel like it would alleviate some of the concerns the residents have,” Parker said. “And the dumpster on the street is a safety concern.”
Vine Street residents thought differently of Welch’s plan.
“It’s not going to cut down on noise,” neighbor Curtis Bush Jr. said.
Taking up for Bush, Ward 6 Alderman Roy Á. Perkins said he found no legal reason that would support changing the zone from an R-3 single-family residential to B-1.
“The change in the character of the neighborhood is not there,” Perkins said. “I encourage people to do the right thing and that is to follow the law.”
Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn, whose territory includes the Vine Street neighborhood, asked other members of the board what they would do if they lived on Vine Street.
Vaughn’s argument came after Bush entreated the board to look at this issue from his perspective: “You don’t know it until you live in it.”
The board approved a number of other items Tuesday night, including the following:
• A request from the Oktibbeha County Humane Society in accordance with the city’s policy for placing an insert into the monthly billing mail cycle for the Starkville Electric Department.
• A resolution approving and authorizing the distribution of a preliminary official statement and authoring the execution and distribution of an official statement pertaining to the sale of $2.75 million maximum principal amount general obligation refunding bonds.
• A pay request from Clearwater Consultants Inc. of $24,586 for improvement of Bryan Field funded by a grant from the Airport Improvement Program.
• A pay request from Clearwater Consultants Inc. of $6,448 for project development and expense documentation for land acquisition reimbursement for Bryan Field funded by a grant from the Airport Improvement Program.
• All claims as of December 30, 2009.
• The purchase and installation of control and monitoring equipment for a sewage pump station in the Sherwood Forest Subdivision from Control Systems Inc., a sole source, in the amount of $11,595.
• A request from the Starkville Main Street Association for closing Main Street on February 4, 2011 for the Dudy Gras Parade and the Red Beans and Rice Amature Cook-Off and for in-kind city services.
• Appointing the Technology Committee to screen and select applicants for the Board of Aldermen to interview for the position of information technology manager.
• Temporary pay increases for the Starkville Fire Department employees assigned to temporary positions due to retirement and absence due to work-related injury.
The Board of Aldermen next meets at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 18 in the courtroom at City Hall on Lampkin Street.