City upholds moratorium

By Barbara Grider
Staff Writer
Posted 7/19/07

The Robertsdale City Council voted to uphold a construction moratorium on building permits in a neighborhood zoned R-2, duplex, but exempted one lot that was scheduled for duplex construction in the neighborhood.

The council had placed the …

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City upholds moratorium

Posted

The Robertsdale City Council voted to uphold a construction moratorium on building permits in a neighborhood zoned R-2, duplex, but exempted one lot that was scheduled for duplex construction in the neighborhood.

The council had placed the moratorium, which will expire on Aug. 1, on building in the residential area of West Hammond Street after learning that a large portion of the primarily single-family neighborhood was zoned for duplexes in the 1970s.

The council made the decision to place a moratorium after residents of the neighborhood requested the area be rezoned R-1, single-family residence. Several residents spoke at the public hearing on the matter, expressing concerns about the construction of duplexes in a neighborhood that is primarily made up of single-family dwellings.

Mayor Charles Murphy noted that there are several areas of the city which are zoned R-2, including a large portion of the neighborhoods behind City Hall, even though most the houses in those areas are single-family dwellings.

“We’ve got a huge area there zoned R-2. If the citizens who live in these areas realized how much was zoned R-2, they'd be surprised,” he said.

Jim Arnett, chairman of the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments, said changing the designation would would set a precedent that would create problems with landowners in other area of the city. He said the area had been zoned R-2 since the 1970s and noted that people who purchase property in an area zoned R-2 have the right to expect that they can build duplexes on that property.

Several property owners who were at the public hearing said they were not informed their neighborhood was zoned for duplexes when they purchased their property.They expressed concerns about increased traffic, overloaded sewers and the possibility that duplexes will change their neighborhoods and reduce property values.

Arnett said it is the responsibility of those who purchase property to find out what the zoning is for that property. He said the Zoning Board of Adjustments did not recommend changing the zoning.

“If you rezone it, you penalize the people who did the research. This is like any other ordinance — people are responsible for finding out what the zoning is,” he said. Arnett also noted that if the council changed the zoning, it would be acting “arbitrarily or capriciously.”

Arnett said there are many areas of the city zoned R-2 and changing the zoning on one neighborhood could create problems with property owners in those areas of the city. “You can’t completely zone our R-2, no matter what you do,” he said.

Blake Lowe, an attorney representing Enhanced Estates LLC, the company that purchased the property in April with the intention of building duplexes, also spoke during the public hearing on the matter.

Lowe said duplexes increase traffic no more than a single family home with several drivers and that duplexes do not decrease property values. “Property values increase because there are more options for those who purchase property,” he said. Low also said when the property in question was purchased in April, the owners were assured that the area was zoned for duplexes.

Councilman Paul Hollingsworth noted that although he would like to see more neighborhoods continue to be zoned for single-family residences, the city must abide by the ordinances not in place. “The people purchased the property with the understanding that it was R-2, and I’m not a lawyer, but I think we’d be in trouble if we tried to change that,” Hollingsworth said.

Sue Cooper said she felt the council should deny the request for the zoning change, saying, “I think we would be on a slippery slope if we allow it to be rezoned.”

The city is in the process of developing a comprehensive plan and Murphy said zoning is one of the issues which will be addressed in that long-range plan. He said the city will hold a public meeting on the proposed plan Aug. 21 at 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Hollingsworth suggested the council leave the moratorium in place, but exempt one lot from the moratorium to allow the developer to apply for a building permit and begin the construction process. He made the motion and the council passed it.

In other business, the council:

— Voted to purchase a lot on East Chicago Street between the utility building and the park, across from the Thames Senior Citizens building for $44,500 from the Alabama Farmers Cooperative.

— Awarded a bid for piping to Consolidated Pipe for $114,926.23.

— Rejected bids for concrete work at the new baseball complex because one bidder was disqualified and two bids were above the the budged amount for the project.

— Made an $11,000 net adjustment to the 2007 budget.

Cooper announced that the city has been awarded a grant to hire the services of an arborist to help identify and compile a list of “heritage” trees and to write a tree ordinance. She praised the effort of city employee Sonja Jackson, who is chair of the tree and parks board, for working to get the grant.

“This is wonderful. Someday, we might have tree-lined streets again,” she said.