The board denied the rezoning request from Pell City-Tifton Properties LLC, a subsidiary of Thunder Enterprises of Chattanooga, which has owned the property since 2006. The board voted 4-1 Thursday night against the rezoning proposal.
John Hoffman was the only board member who voted in favor of the request. Board members Dot Wood, Mike Sewell, Doug Carden and Pat Wrigley voted against the rezoning.
Thunder Enterprises requested the 28-acre commercial tract, currently zoned M-1 for manufacturing, be rezoned B-2 for general business and R-4, which would allow developers to build apartments or town homes.
Chris Eckroate, a civil engineer for Goodwyn, Mills and Caywood of Birmingham who represented Thunder Enterprises, told the board Thursday night that the company wanted about 20 acres of the property rezoned R-4, and the remaining eight acres rezoned for general business.
Eckroate said the R-4 zoning for multi-family dwellings was good transitional use of the property located adjacent to the Mill Village community, and would provide a buffer between residential and the commercial development.
He said the same board approved similar rezoning plans in February 2011, but the City Council rejected the request last year.
Eckroate said the proposed development of apartments on the former Avondale Mills plant site is an estimated $26 million construction investment that would bring tax dollars, fees and jobs to Pell City.
Residents spoke both for and against the proposed zoning of the former Avondale Mills property, which borders U.S. 231, Comer Avenue, U.S. 78 and the Mill Village.
John Thornton, president of Thunder Enterprises, told the board the company tried to get the property rezoned last year for a $13 million, 64-unit apartment complex, which would have brought more than $300,000 to the city in taxes alone.
“This body approved that plan,” he said.
Thornton said a proposed apartment development could provide a $25 million investment and another $4 million for the commercial development of the former Avondale Mills plant site.
“Experts tell us this is the right plan,” Thornton said, adding that he knows it is in the best interest of the city to approve the rezoning request.
He said some city officials were concerned about increased crime rates that some people believe come with high-density developments, but Thornton said he had a study that disproves that notion, saying the crime rate is dependent on socio-economic status, not the number of residents living in a certain area.
Eckroate said the numbers he provided to the board were based on a 320-unit apartment complex, and he assured the board that this is going to be a high-caliber development “well-suited for this property.”
“It could be a 64-unit development,” he said.
Eckroate said the company must get the proper zoning for the property before moving forward with concrete development plans, which the same board would also have to approve.
Resident and former Pell City Mayor Lawrence Fields, who is in the real estate business, said he was against building more apartments in the city.
“I don’t oppose the B-2 zoning,” Fields said. “But guys, we are running over with apartments.”
He said the majority of the former Avondale Mills property needs to be used for commercial retail.
Some residents suggested building homes or garden homes instead of apartments, but Thornton said the company also has home lots in Pell City that have not sold in the past year.
He said there is a market for apartments.
Avondale Mills resident Darrell Howell said the city approved the zoning so a church could be build in front of his home, so he asked the board why it would not approve the rezoning that would improve the vacant Avondale Mills property.
Howell said not everyone can afford to buy a home.
“I hear every day about people looking for a place to rent,” he said.
Another man speaking on behalf of a church in the Mill Village community said he was opposed to the construction of apartments on the Avondale Mills property.
“I’m not against garden homes,” he said, adding that apartment owners are not selective about renters, if there is a struggle to rent apartments.
Pell City resident Gene Newman, who is a retired policeman, said he did not believe the apartment complex would bring more crime.
He said the additional revenue from the development would help the city pay for needed road repairs and water line leaks.
“I’m for it,” Newman said.
Ben Weaver said the proposed apartment complex would be at his back door.
“I am 110 percent opposed to apartments,” he said. “I’m not opposed to other structures.”
Weaver said he would prefer the construction of homes, not apartments, on the former Avondale Mills property.
Before the board’s vote Thursday night, Larry Riggins, the city’s building inspector, recommended that the board approve the requested rezoning.
“We feel like with the right development and density, it will be a plus for the area,” Riggins said.
Wood said her biggest problem is the impact on traffic along 29th Street.
“Especially with 320 units,” she said.
But city engineer Essam Ahmad said the city could require the developer to improve road entrances for future development.
Thornton said his company will appeal to the council with its rezoning request.
“What would you like to see there?” Thornton asked the board.
Bill Phillips, who was acting as the board chairman, said that was an issue that needed to be discussed with city leaders and the board at another time.
Contact David Atchison at email@example.com.