Tupelo Council stalls on development code

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By Robbie Ward / NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – After speeches and recognitions for outgoing Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and two council members, the Council voted to approve lingering items for the current administration’s priorities, but not all passed.
Deadlocking on a split 3 to 3 vote, council members failed to pass the updated development code, an anticipated plan in the works for about three years.
Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan, who could have cast the deciding vote, did not attend the meeting.
The updated code helped respond to complaints about existing ordinances leading to increased costs and having little flexibility for residential and commercial developments.
Mike McFall, general manager of Lamar Advertising, which owns many billboards throughout the city, objected to the new development code, based on the document calling for elimination of billboard on key roadways after five years, including Gloster and Main streets, Coley Road and Cliff Gookin Boulevard. Billboards also would have been prohibited at the intersection of McCullough Boulevard and Coley Road.
“This will all but eliminate billboard advertising in the city,” McFall told the council.
Council members Jim Newell of Ward 3, Markel Whittington of Ward 1 and Nettie Davis of Ward 4 opposed proceeding with the development code changes.
Willie Jennings of Ward 7, Jonny Davis of Ward 5 and Fred Pitts of Ward 3 supported moving forward with the change.
City Planner Pat Faulkner admitted changes to that part of the proposed code should take place but after the over document was approved.
“I think there would have been plenty of time to come up with a compromise on that,” Faulkner said.
With the development code untouched before Mayor-elect Jason Shelton and the new City Council take office in July, changes are uncertain. Pitts and Jonny Davis in Wards 2 and 5 will be replaced with Lynn Bryan and Buddy Palmer.
At least one business interested in locating in the Barnes Crossing area had anticipated the change of ordinances, which would have likely saved money.
However, the city proceeded with a key part of this administration – redevelopment of the West Jackson Street area. The council unanimously approved a formal agreement that will allow board members of the nonprofit Neighborhood Development Corporation take a lead role in negotiating and acquiring property. The council authorized the group spending up to $250,000 on the project without additional approval.
“I’m for something being done,” Jennings said. “If you don’t do something, you won’t have any new results.”
This agreement leaves one of the key priorities of the Reed Administration in the hands of another mayor and City Council. Reed has touted the effort as a pilot project that, if successful, could be used as a model in blighted neighborhoods throughout the city.
The council also approved Waste Management as the vendor that will pick up city trash and recycling, although terms of the six-year contract remain undecided. The current contract ends in July.
Council members have said they’re leaning toward keeping the existing scheduling of trash pickup twice a week and recycling pickup every two weeks.
City Council members also voted 5 to 1 to authorize $3 million in bonds to pay for a new fire truck, the city’s portion of anticipated grants and portions of the aquatic center in east Tupelo, and other parks improvements.
Newell opposed the bond, saying he hadn’t learned of specific plans for that bond issue until this week.
Jennings said he has known for months about the need to issue bonds for big-ticket capital improvements items. The council had previously approved a capital expenditure budget.
“I don’t want citizens thinking I didn’t know about this,” he said.
robbie.ward@journalinc.com