Starkville is updating its development code to minimize rezoning occurrences and variances. Last year, the city had 10 rezoning incidents and 11 variances.

Rezoning occurs when the purpose of land is changed by the city, such as switching an area from residential to commercial if businesses are trying to move in.

Variances involve specific instances on a property when there is an ordinance violation. The city can grant an exception to the ordinance if it is determined not to hinder the community.

Assistant City Planner Emily Corban said the goal of the changes is to make a unified development code. Corban said the current code is compiled of pieces of code put together over time, with some ordinances dating back to the 1950s and others contradicting each other.

"It's not comprehensive," Corban said.

Cities are divided into zones to designate how land will be used. As cities grow and change, zoning code often change with it to reflect.

According to Corban, the rezoning and variance issues are symptoms of a code that needs to be updated.

"Starkville has constantly been on a long path of development," Corban said. "We're moving to support more commercial business."

Corban said while updates to the city's code are necessary, the cost of actually changing it prevents them from being done as often as they should.

"Ideally, it would be updated every five years," Corban said. "But that almost never happens."

The last time Starkville adopted a zoning map was in 2013.

Starkville's zoning map and development code are part of the city’s larger comprehensive plan. This plan lays the foundation for how the city will change. It is meant to serve as the thematic guideline as new projects are adopted.

The last comprehensive plan was proposed and approved in 2016 under former Mayor Parker Wiseman.

Local developer Neil Heitzmann of Verde Construction said he's had a relatively easy time dealing with the city's current code.

"The code hasn't really prevented me from doing anything," Heitzmann said.

The Board of Adjustments and Appeals approved an appeal from Heitzmann to build pergolas on two homes in the neighborhood he's currently developing on Frenchmen Street this week.

Heitzmann acknowledged that some ordinances might seem silly at first glance, but that there was always a purpose behind the rules. In the case of the pergolas, he guessed the original issue had to do with fire safety.

While Heitzmann personally has never had any of his variance requests denied, he has seen it happen. According to him, it usually comes down to citizens in the area since everyone around a variance is able to speak out against the change.

"It depends on the public," Heitzmann said. "If you don't get any pushback from the residents, they usually approve the request."

Having formerly worked in Florida, Heitzmann said developers in Starkville don't realize how lucky they are. For the work he did around Tampa, he said it was not uncommon to wait two years just to get permits to begin working.

While working on his most recent project in Starkville, Heitzmann only had to wait three months.

"Florida is a nightmare compared to Starkville," Heitzmann said.

No schedule has been announced for the project's completion, but when it is finished, it will have to be approved by the Board of Aldermen.

Since the city's work on the united development code is still in progress, it will not be shown to the public.

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