3Qs: Pat Falkner, Tupelo City Planner

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

The city of Tupelo recently finished a major overhaul of its development code, which regulates land use and construction standards. Planning officials are seeking input from residents and other stakeholders before presenting the plan to the City Council for approval. The Daily Journal’s Emily Le Coz spoke with City Planner Pat Falkner about what’s in store.

Q. Why change the development code?
A. One of our big challenges in the last 10 years is how to maintain value in our older neighborhoods. And one of the keys to doing that is, we have to create the opportunity for new investment and new housing in those neighborhoods. That means something needs to change in some way. Either we just sit back and let change happen without intervening – like letting the investment be in the form of rental property acquisition – or we can have a better type of development, like new housing. We’d rather have the new housing, so that means we need to allow for some increase in housing density in our neighborhoods.

Q. Can you cite a few specific examples of what changes we’ll see in the development code?
A. In some older neighborhoods, we’ll have some mixed-use residential zoning, so there will be some opportunity for some small-scale businesses in places where single-family homes aren’t succeeding now. Those will be fairly closely watched in those locations. We don’t want people just dropping duplexes in single-family neighborhoods.
Another example is with what you call an accessory dwelling unit, which is sometimes called a mother-in-law house. In our code, they’re sometimes difficult to get, but they’re great for single people or for older people. We’re going to allow those in the new development code on the condition that the property owner lives on the site, either the bigger house or in the smaller unit.

Q. How does the new development code affect the average person?
A. The big picture for them is that we’ve got to become more competitive in our ability to have businesses here, as well as people. In the long term, everybody’s served in an economy that continues to grow. I don’t think it’s wise to assume we’re going to get all the growth we’ve traditionally gotten. So we’ve got to make a code that creates the possibility in Tupelo of being the best location…
The old code, in retrospect, it allowed that most of the huge area we annexed in 1989 to be taken up with large-lot housing. Frankly, we needed to get a lot more housing in that area than we got, and so we got squeezed on land and land prices and people started moving out. With the land we’ve got left, even with the annexation we just made, we have to be a lot more careful in how we use it.