By KELLY DANIELS
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas says that amending the city’s development policies is so important that he would like to see the Comprehensive Planning Committee have a less “politically biased” leader other himself as its chairman.
During the Saturday morning session Board of Alderman’s weekend strategic planning retreat, Dumas said that the committee needed a non-elected official as chair.
“It became very apparent quickly that I did not need to be the chairman as a political leader,” said Dumas, explaining that the committee would be recommending policies on which he would be voting as an alderman.
Amending the comprehensive plan that was adopted in 2005 is a massive undertaking with high stakes, officials agreed.
“We’ve come so far, and I hope we’re on the cusp of significant development pressure,” Dumas said. “We’re sitting here with a four-lane highway wrapping our town; who knows what’s going to start happening.”
And so much of the plan needs revision, he added, that the committee’s work could result in an entirely new one.
Some of Starkville’s policies enacted since the plan’s adoption are not enough, according to Dumas, for the comprehensive plan to have its intended effect.
“I think in any given argument, somebody could find a piece of the plan that could work,” he said.
“I would personally like to work more specifically on the policies and ordinances (of the city) and to use those as an amendment to the plan.”
For example, the city has not updated its subdivision regulations — an action recommended in the plan — since 1978.
The plan also warns about the overabundance of commercial development, but the city’s planning and zoning process is unprepared, Dumas fears.
What to do with Highway 182
Officials agreed this weekend that members of the Comprehensive Planning Committee should place the revitalization of Highway 182 high on their priority list.
Built as a state thoroughfare, the road does not exactly lure first-time visitors and is full of safety hazards, board members say. And while many leaders have repeatedly discussed and inquired what to do with Highway 182, the question continues to linger.
Those eager to solve the problem first face the obstacle of outside ownership, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which “repairs” the road every 10 to 15 years with an overlay, or resurfacing.
But Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey said until the concrete road is rebuilt from the ground up with a more stable foundation, its cracks will continue at their current pace.
During previous meetings with representatives from MDOT, board members were told that nothing more could be done for 182.
Mayor Parker Wiseman said MDOT would like to rid the street from their responsibility, but its improvement would require “massive” public spending.
“I think this is a place where the rubber meets the road, literally and figuratively,” Ward 2 Alderwoman and Vice Mayor Sandra Sistrunk said.
Dumas said that more needs to happen to Highway 182 than just repair: “Until we look at the land use and concept of the road, it will not get any better.”
Dumas then listed steps needed for improvement: The election of candidate Mike Tagert of Starkville for Northern District transportation commissioner in a Feb. 2 special runoff election, extending the city’s public buildings into the neighborhood and incorporating the road into the city’s overarching plans.
The board’s retreat was a year-end update of officials’ strategic plan for the current term.
While many of the goals made in 2010 were checked off, members added more, such as enforcing current laws — one of them being for parking violations.
The board also added the goal of establishing new code regulations such as a litter control program.
“I just started noticing all the litter a year and a half ago,” said Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver.
Other proposals discussed this weekend included extending the 311 non-emergency service line into unconnected areas and updating the city’s technology such as the website and the use of social media.
Wiseman praised the board’s productivity this weekend, stating that no issues were dodged.
“I left last night with a very satisfied feeling,” Wiseman said.