Lawsuit filed against city by owner of former mill site
by DAVID ATCHISON
Sep 28, 2012 | 4537 views |  0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Owners of the former Avondale Mills Plant site filed a lawsuit against the city.
Owners of the former Avondale Mills Plant site filed a lawsuit against the city.
slideshow
PELL CITY — The owner of the former Avondale Mills plant site has filed a lawsuit against the city after the council failed to act on a second rezoning request by the Chattanooga-based company.

Pell City-Tifton Properties LLC, a subsidiary of Thunder Enterprises, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and other relief after the council failed twice to approve a rezoning request for the 26-acre plant site.

The company asked that the city rezone the property from manufacturing to a combination zoning of residential and commercial.

The complaint filed in St. Clair County Circuit Court on Sept. 19 claims the City Council’s action was in retaliation for a dispute the company had with the city over another piece of Avondale property. That property had a well the city used as a major water supply source.

The company had asked $1 million for the property with the well site, but the current administration claimed the property was only worth $310,000.

Pell City-Tifton Properties challenged the city’s condemnation proceedings and in a court settlement was awarded $1.1 million for the one-acre well site.

“The action of the City Council to turn down the requested rezoning twice is politically motivated,” the complaint filed with the St. Clair County Circuit Clerk’s Office in Pell City alleges. “It is also arbitrary and capricious because of the ill feelings over the well site. The prophetic statement by the mayor’s office that favorable zoning would occur if the well site was gifted to the city indicated that unfavorable zoning decisions would occur if the well site was not given. In essence, the city has condemned the plant site by refusing reasonable rezoning requests on two occasions.”

The complaint alleges that former Mayor Adam Stocks asked the company to give the well site to the city at no cost.

“During the term of the lease, the city government, through the mayor’s office, requested that the plaintiff donate the well to the city in turn for which any future rezoning application of the plant site would be well received,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff declined the offer.”

The complaint also says Stocks, “a former city official,” made his position clear in a January 2009 story published in The Daily Home.

“The official indicated it was foolish for plaintiff ‘to try to play hardball with the well property when they are going to need city assistance down the road,’” the complaint states.

Negotiations to secure the well site continued when Mayor Bill Hereford and the new administration took office in 2008, and the mater eventually headed to court in 2010.

“After a jury was struck in the condemnation proceeding, the city reluctantly agreed to pay a fair settlement price, $1.1 million, which was still less than the fair market value for the well site,” the complaint states. “The mayor’s office was not happy with this result and showed displeasure to the plaintiff.”

Pell City-Tifton Properties requested that the city approve rezoning the former Avondale Mills property from manufacturing to a combination of commercial and residential rezoning. The company requested that about 20 acres of the property be zoned for a residential development, while the remaining six acres be approved for commercial development.

“On Jan. 27, 2011, the Pell City Planning and Zoning Board approved the recommended rezoning of the Avondale Property,” the complaint states.

The next month, February 2011, the mayor and council rejected the rezoning request, which would have brought a $13 million apartment complex development to the vacant property, by a 4-2 vote.

Pell City-Tifton Properties was required to wait one year before making another rezoning request for the property. In May, the Planning and Zoning Board rejected the company’s rezoning request by a 4-1 vote after the city’s full-time planning staff recommended approval.

The company appealed to the council, and the zoning request failed at the Aug. 27 council meeting because of lack of a motion by any member of the council.

“With the history between the plaintiff and the city government officials, one member of the council stated during the proceeding that he did not make any motion to approve the zoning because he always thought the property should be owned by the city,” the complaint states. “In fact, the city has taken that position with their prior attempts to secure title to the property for less than fair market value.”

In its claim, Pell City-Tifton Properties seeks a jury trial and asks the court to order that the council approve the company’s rezoning request.

“In the alternative, plaintiff seeks a jury trial on whether the action of the City Council constitutes an inverse condemnation pursuant to Alabama Code Section 18-1A-32 and Alabama Const. Art. XII, Sec. 235 as taking of the property of the plaintiff and seeks damages for such action if rezoning is not required by the court,” the complaint states. “In addition to its other claims, plaintiff seeks damages due to the delay in the rezoning, including loss of opportunity, loss of profits, additional interest expense, engineering, and other studies required, attorney fees and other damages incurred by reason of the arbitrary decision of the City Council.”

Stocks said he could not comment on the lawsuit at this time.

“With pending litigation and a possibility of me serving as mayor again, it is best that I do not comment at this time,” Stocks said Thursday.

City manager Patrick Draper said he had not seen the complaint filed in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

“I am unable to comment, since I have not received a copy of the complaint,” said John Rea, the city’s attorney.

Contact David Atchison at datchison@dailyhome.com.