By PAUL SIMS
After several public input sessions and time spent fine tuning the language, Starkville’s Board of Aldermen are scheduled to vote tonight on changes to the city’s sidewalk ordinance.
Specifically, ordinance amendments focus primarily on setting up a variance process by which those seeking relief from its requirements can proceed.
The ordinance allows applicants to come before the city’s Board of Adjustment and Appeals and specifies that the sole item for consideration is that the cost of building the sidewalk would create an undue fiscal hardship.
The specific measure for such a hardship would be the cost-per-linear-foot to install the sidewalk.
Tonight’s public hearing on the proposed sidewalk ordinance changes will the third. City officials set this latest hearing after making changes to the amendment between the March 1 and March 15 meetings.
City officials decided a third public hearing would be in order to allow additional input after the most recent changes.
These latest revisions include a “grandfather” clause to allow an exemption to the sidewalk ordinances for new construction in subdivisions with public streets accepted before the new regulation. There was also a reference in Section 3.4 to a “to be developed comprehensive sidewalk plan.”
Last month, Mayor Parker Wiseman said City Attorney Chris Latimer and the city’s Transportation Committee believed “it would be problematic to mention a plan not currently in existence.”
On Monday, Wiseman said: “I think it’s a good amendment. It adds some much needed flexibility to the sidewalk ordinance.”
He also said: “New ordinances are often works in progress. This ordinance will serve the city’s major objective of fostering a more walkable community well. Does that mean that it will do so in the exact same form that it currently exists in? I don’t think we know the answer to that yet, but we will remain committed to the goal of creating a more walkable community and having a sidewalk ordinance is a big part of the process for achieving that goal.”
Ward 2 Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem Sandra Sistrunk said if the ordinance passes, “We’ll have a variance process in place which will give us some flexibility to look at the next step. Long term, I think we need to step back and look at where sidewalks are most essential in the city and getting sidewalks in place.”
From last week’s design charrette, “it appears it is important we focus in the downtown area first. Walkability is an important issue for many people here in Starkville,” she said.
Much public input took place, both in the form of hearings at Board of Aldermen meetings and in sessions the Transportation Committee held, Sistrunk said. The panel also looked at other community’s sidewalk ordinances.
In regard to what’s on the table tonight, Sistrunk said: “We’ve tried to come up with a compromise that works for now. Ordinances are not static. You can’t pass an ordinance with the thought it will never change because cities live on long past any board.”
Also on tonight’s agenda are both a public hearing and an item under board business to repeal an ordinance addressing the construction and aesthetic impact of signs in the city.
Specifically, the changes will allow for modifications in size and placement of signs as well as the amortization of non-conforming signs. Depending on the type, the amortization period can range as far as 180 days to 10 years, the proposed ordinance reads.
Monument, multi-tenant business, pole and roof signs must comply with the new ordinance within 10 years. Window signs must be brought into compliance within the six-month time frame. Wall signs fall within a one-year compliance schedule.
The Starkville Board of Aldermen will meet today at 5:30 p.m. in the courtroom in City Hall.