New code proposed

By Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – City officials have proposed a new development code they hope will make life easier for businesses.
“This code is intended to create more opportunities in more places for businesses,” said City Planner Pat Falkner. “It’s intended to be more friendly to private business than our last code was. … We want it to be a code that allows new things to happen and to allow the market to go where it needs to go but doesn’t force it.”
It applies to all businesses, big and small.
The drafted code is about 2 inches thick and is posted at TupeloMS.gov/development. The planning committee hosts a public hearing about the proposed code at 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall. The committee then will have the option to recommend it to the City Council.
So far, Falkner said less than 25 people have come to the work sessions held by the Department of Development Services. He said he hasn’t heard any feedback from businesses, even though he’s given copies of the draft to several groups.
“Nobody’s really sat down and said ‘This whole approach is wrong’ or ‘These numbers don’t work,’” he said. “It’s been just minor changes. I frankly think it’s because they haven’t given it enough attention. If we had more development going on, I think you’d have more attention paid to it.”
Falkner said the development code has several major changes, including allowing more mixed-use development throughout the city. The current code, which was adopted in 1994, “assumed we had all the land we’d ever need,” Falkner said. It emphasized large lots with big setbacks from the street.
The proposed code would decrease the minimum size of lots and would allow for denser development, a trend Falkner said is emphasized in the city’s comprehensive plan.
The proposed code also removes layers of review for businesses, Falkner said.
Under the current code, businesses have to go before the planning committee for approval for items. With the proposed code, more of the reviews will be done within the development services department.
“The old code was black and white,” he said. “You met the standard or you didn’t. The new code will have a lot more in between, a lot more ‘Let’s talk about that.’” There’s a lot of provisions for flexibility in the code.”
The code includes a checklist to help developers put together projects. It follows a points system.
“It’s better to have something spelled out black and white than to have people guess what you want,” Falkner said. “It puts definite numbers and measures in their hands and not ‘Can you get the planning committee to buy your proposal?’”
If the City Council approves the code, Falkner said there will be a transition period for businesses currently in the development process. His goal is to be operating 100 percent under the proposed code by July 1.
And, Falkner said much of the new code won’t apply to current businesses. They’ll be grandfathered in, he said. But if they make changes or have a disaster like a fire, they might fall under the new code, depending on the situation and their location, he said.
The proposed code took about two years to update and incorporates 52 specific recommendations from the comprehensive plan. It also used residential and business feedback gathered during the comprehensive plan process.
“We don’t just make up what we think needs to be in the code,” Falkner said. “It’s an open process. Anybody who wants to take the time to look at it and think about it, we’re open to listening to them. Just about everything in there reflects a balancing process. We can’t guarantee we’ll change everything to suit people.”
carlie.wells@journal.com