Mayor Bill Hereford and council members Donnie Todd and Donnie Guinn voted in favor of rezoning the property located at the corner of Ninth Avenue North and U.S. 231 from residential to commercial. Council members Dot Wood, James McGowan and Jay Jenkins voted against the rezoning request from Jeff Jones with Riverbank Properties LLC.
Jones wanted to develop the property, located across from Jack’s Restaurant and adjacent to Iola Roberts Elementary School, for a $1.5 million commercial development center with seven or eight units.
“I’m here to present potential growth,” Jones told the council before he laid out his plans for the property. “I’m trying to create jobs and new taxes for the city.”
Pell City attorney Billy Church, who is Jones’ legal counsel, told the mayor and council at a public hearing during Monday night’s council meeting that the property was used 25-30 years for commercial purposes and was even designated on city maps for future commercial development.
He said Oak Ridge community residents never complained when the property was used for commercial purposes by the former Miller Sutherlin Auto Mall.
The car dealership, which closed it doors in 2009, used the one-acre lot to park new cars and trucks.
Church said he knew of no incident where a resident ever filed a complaint with the city that this was in violation of their covenant or zoning.
The zoning proposal was met by about 20-25 people in the Oak Ridge community, who opposed the rezoning of the property for commercial use.
John Knight told the council that the Oak Ridge community had a restrictive covenant that required that 75-percent of the Oak Ridge community agree to any changes in the use of property guidelines.
“It’s a legal agreement,” he said.
Knight said Jones went to the council instead of the residents and if the council approved the rezoning request it would force residents into an expensive court battle.
He said by the council rezoning the property, it would have a domino effect on other property that fronts U.S. 231, but provides a buffer for their community.
Knight said the city’s own comprehensive plan also discourages “strip commercial developments.”
Blaine Henderson pointed out that there is plenty of “empty” commercial spaces available in the city. He said two years ago the planning and zoning board approved the rezoning of this property, but the council rejected it.
However, he said, the latest request was disapproved by the planning and zoning board, and if the council approved the rezoning request now, he would ask, “What’s changed?”
Tricia Sims said she lives directly behind the development.
“We are adamantly opposed to this,” she said.
Sims said there were environmental concerns and little to no buffer. She said the businesses there would have dumpsters, which would bring unwanted rodents and animals.
David Jackson, who attended Monday night’s public hearing on behalf of his mother, said he grew up in the Oak Ridge community and the covenants were in place to protect those who invested their money in their residential property or homes.
He said it was understood that 75 percent of the residents had to agree on any uses or changes for the buffer properties that front U.S. 231.
Richard Nixon told the council there is not enough parking for the school, much less more businesses at the intersection.
“That lot stays full (with school traffic),” Nixon said, adding that people park behind the school and in the alley. “Where are they going to park? They are using that property because they have no where else to go.”
Laurie Henderson said children and grandchildren play freely in their community, but she worries about the safety of her own children with a new commercial development.
“It’s a major issue, not only that affects traffic flow, but the safety of our children,” she said. “There are some things more important than money, like safety and our children.”
Former St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Charles Robinson, who also owns property in the Oak Ridge community, said the council denied the same type of rezoning request from the previous owner, and questioned how it would look to approve it now for a different owner.
Robinson said Jones knew when he bought the property that there were restrictions.
“Those covenants are going to be enforced,” Robinson said, adding that Oak Ridge is the oldest subdivision in Pell City.
Robinson pointed to the vacant lot across U.S. 231, next to the Jack’s restaurant, saying that would be a more practical place to build a strip mall.
He was also concerned about the traffic, and about the businesses that could move into the new development.
Nancy Jordan was the only Oak Ridge community resident to speak in favor of the rezoning request from R-1, residential, to B-2, general business, Monday night.
“That covenant has been broken and broken and broken….I feel like the covenant has been broken by everyone here,” she said. “I see progress….This is no longer the Mountain Brook of Pell City… Times have changed.”
In other matters Monday night, the council:
• Approved a contract with L.P. Campbell Company, the city’s grant writer, in the amount of $15,500 a year.
• Approved the low bid for the lease of two Toro mowers from Jerry Pate Turf & Irrigation in the amount of $379.67.
• Agreed to waive water utility charges for customers who still have discolored water problems.
• Accepted three miles of roads in the Fox Hollow subdivision.
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