Pell City Council approves controversial rezoning request
by David Atchison
PELL CITY — Despite pleas from Oak Ridge community residents, the City Council approved a request for rezoning of property within their subdivision Monday night.

In a 4-1 vote, the council approved rezoning property owned by Riverbank Properties, LLC from residential to commercial. The property in question is adjacent to Iola Roberts Elementary School, along U.S. 231.

Councilwoman Dot Wood was the lone council member to vote against rezoning the property, which is in her district.

“I just want to thank the council for addressing a difficult situation,” said Jeff Jones with Riverbank Properties.

The council held a public hearing last month, and the majority of the residents who addressed the council voiced opposition to the rezoning of the property.

Former St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Charles Robinson Sr., who owns property in the Oak Ridge community, again asked the council to reject the rezoning request.

He said the city was indirectly changing the subdivision’s covenants, which protects it from commercial encroachment.

“We don’t have the authority to change covenants,” said council President James McGowan.

Robinson said only 75 percent of the community can vote to change the covenant, and he alleged Jones sidestepped the community and went to the council for the rezoning request because the majority of Oak Ridge residents are against the commercial zoning of the property.

He also asked that Councilwoman Sharon Thomas recuse herself from the vote because she was part of the city’s Planning and Zoning Board that approved the rezoning request from R-1, low density residential district, to B-1, neighborhood business district.

City attorney John Rea said there was no legal reason Thomas should recuse herself, and she serves on the Planning and Zoning Board as a representative of the council.

Last year, Jones went before the council and asked that the property be rezoned to B-2, but that request was rejected.

McGowan said the rezoning request being changed to B-1, instead of B-2, general business district, was one reason he changed his vote to “yes” this time around.

Councilman Jay Jenkins said there was also a lot of concern about traffic, but a plan is being developed to help ease the traffic problem in front of Iola Roberts Elementary School.

The plan will direct school traffic to the back of the school and down 7th and 9th avenues and 28th Street North.

Rea emphasized that the city was not changing the subdivision covenant, but only the zoning of the property.

“A municipal governing body may zone property within corporate limits without being bound by presently existing restrictive covenants, although council may and should consider such covenants when brought to the attention of the council,” Rea said.

He read an Alabama Attorney General’s opinion dated March 19, 1981 on the matter.

“… A municipal governing body may exercise zoning powers granted to it under the Code of Alabama without being bound by the restrictive covenants contained in the developer’s subdivision covenants,” Rea read to the council and to the public who attended Monday night’s called council meeting. “However, such covenants may and should be considered when brought to the attention of the council, in as much as the council might consider the wishes of the area involved. The covenants are not, by the exercise of the zoning power, made unenforceable. However, the enforcement of such restrictive covenants are not matters to be pursued by the municipal governing body, but are maters to be pursued by the private parties concerned as they see fit…”

Nancy Jordan, who spoke in favor of rezoning the property, said there are 40 businesses within a one-mile radius of the property in question.

“(U.S.) 231 is no longer a residential highway,” she said.

Jordan said sometimes progress is hard, but Pell City is not the same since the construction of Interstate 20, Logan Martin Lake and Talladega Superspeedway.

She said there are about 124 businesses along U.S. 231, from I-20 to Cropwell.

Those in opposition to the rezoning quietly left the council chamber after the 4-1 vote.

In other matters Monday night, the council approved purchasing Little League sports uniforms from B&S Sporting Goods of Anniston.

McGowan also appointed Wood and Jenkins to serve on a committee to help look at alleviating the traffic problem at Iola Roberts Elementary School.

Contact David Atchison at datchison@dailyhome.com.

© 2013