Public weighs in on Complete Streets in Tupelo

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Cost and safety topped the list of concerns by residents at a public meeting Thursday on Tupelo’s proposed Complete Streets Policy.
Nearly 50 people attended the 90-minute session at City Hall, where Senior City Planner Renee Autumn Ray outlined the policy and took questions and comments.
The policy requires sidewalks and bike lanes be considered on all new streets and major street repairs by the city and by private developers. But it’d be applied on a case-by-case basis and provides for numerous exemptions in case of financial burden, safety and usefulness.
Developers, like Sam Patterson, said the policy would add cost and headache to the already expensive and complicated process of building in the city. The city needs to make it easier, not harder, for developers, he said.
Ward 7 City Councilman Willie Jennings agreed, saying he “wouldn’t support anything that doesn’t support affordable housing.”
But Ray said money-saving techniques like reducing street width can make such ventures affordable: A 24-foot street costs developers $185 per linear foot versus $182 for a 20-foot street with sidewalks on both sides, Ray said.
Even if developers keep the 24-foot street and add sidewalks, it’d raise new housing costs by only 1.1 percent, she added.
But Joyner Neighborhood Association president Leslie Mart worried sidewalks could raise property taxes. Council president Fred Pitts said that’d happen only if housing became more valuable, which would be good for homeowners anyway.
Others supported the plan, citing safety and accessibility. Downtown resident Allison Holloway, who relies on a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, said the city’s lack of sidewalks makes travel difficult for her.
“I can get almost anywhere downtown, but if I have to go to Walgreens or Kroger or anywhere else, I need a ride,” Holloway said. “I could get there in a wheelchair, but I can’t because there are no sidewalks and it’s not safe.”
People shouldn’t have to choose between cost and affordability, though, said Tupelo physician Mark Shepherd.
“What good is an affordable house if it’s not a safe place to raise your family?” Shepherd said. “Why have one to the exclusion of the other?”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.