Rezoning decision delayed by Pell City Council
by David Atchison
PELL CITY – Oak Ridge community residents will have to wait until next month before they know if the council will approve to rezone property in their subdivision for commercial use.

Jeff Jones with Riverbank Properties LLC asked the council to approve his request to rezone property that is along U.S. 231 from a residential district to a neighborhood business district.

The council failed to vote on issue because Councilwoman Dot Wood voted not to suspend the rules so the council could vote on the proposed ordinance during the first reading.

“I think all the council members should be here for this,” Wood said after Monday night’s council meeting.

Councilwoman Sharon Thomas was not present at the council meeting.

The majority of Oak Ridge community residents who spoke at Monday night’s public hearing asked the council to reject the rezoning request.

Laurie Henderson, who serves on the Pell City school board with Jones, said nine months out of the year, when Iola Roberts Elementary School is in session, she can’t get to her house, which is behind Jones’ property.

“Traffic is at a standstill,” she said.

Residents said they have to continue down U.S. 231 and go a back way to get home when students are arriving and departing Iola Roberts Elementary School.

Henderson said several parents have talked to her about safety concerns, and to put another business next to the school would only make things worse.

The property Jones requested to have rezoned for a commercial business is adjacent to Iola Roberts Elementary School.

Henderson said she is more concerned about the “safety and integrity of our neighborhood.”

“I will not feel safe to have my children go out into the back yard,” she said. “I’m all about economic development, but the residents of Oak Ridge, the oldest residential subdivision in Pell City, are tax paying residents, too.”

She said Jones knew what the property was zoned for before he bought it, and residents went along with a rezoning request for property across the street.

Henderson said residents made it clear to Jones that they did not want the property in question rezoned commercially.

“We were ensured that would not happen,” she said. “…Residents at Oak Ridge are being asked to sacrifice because Mr. Jones made a bad investment.”

A substitute teacher at Iola Roberts Elementary School, Laura Davis, said there is not enough parking at the school right now, and the construction of a new business next door to the school will make things worse.

David Jackson, who said his mother resides in the Oak Ridge community, said he could not see how the council could go against the subdivision covenant and rezone the property commercially.

“The covenant is there to protect residents from commercial encroachment,” he said. “I don’t see how you can throw it into the wind.”

Carolyn Hall, who spoke in favor of the rezoning, said 50-75 percent of Oak Ridge residents have constructed outbuildings on their property, which is against the covenants, and a council allowed the construction of an apartment in the subdivision.

She said the commercial development of the property would help provide additional school taxes.

Charles Robinson Sr. said he bought property in Oak Ridge because covenants protected the residential section.

“I don’t want anything done to lower my property value,” he said.

He said the rezoning of the property is not going to help the Oak Ridge community.

He said Fox Hollow, a new subdivision near the interstate, has covenants, so he asked the council if they can legally invalidate subdivision covenants.

“You have to abide by those covenants,” he said.

Robinson said the only reason Jones came to the council with his rezoning request is because the majority of Oak Ridge community residents are against the rezoning. He said according to the covenant, it takes 75 percent of the residents to agree to any changes like this matter.

“You are using your authority to change our covenant,” he said.

Nancy Thornton told the council she was in favor of the rezoning request. She said U.S. 231 is the place where businesses should locate.

Thornton said it is progress.

“I ask you to do what’s best for the city,” she said, adding that time and progress brings changes. “You either adapt or you move.”

Jones said the city’s Comprehensive Growth Plan, which was adopted Oct. 9, 2001, identifies the property as commercial property. He also pointed out that the former Miller-Sutherlin Auto Mall sold cars on the property for more than 30 years, but some residents disputed that.

Blane Henderson said there were never any transactions on the property, and that it was only an overflow area for the car dealership.

He also said there were never commercial property taxes paid on the property.

Oak Ridge resident Richard Nixon said Iola Robert Elementary School allowed a car dealership to park cars on school property to help raise money for the school.

“Does that make the school commercial property?” he asked the council. “No, it is still a school.”

Nixon predicted that any business that locates on the property would eventually go belly-up because of limited access nine months out of the year, morning and afternoon.

“It doesn’t matter what business is they are not going to have any business two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon, because you can’t get to it,” he said. “Now we’re left with an empty building and then what? To put a business there makes absolutely no sense.”

Jones asked the council to consider his zoning request, saying the city’s own planning and zoning board overwhelmingly approved his request.

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© 2013