Council to consider additional $7.2M for Town Creek drainage project
Walker County News Today Staff
Residents who oppose a developer’s controversial plan to rezone a portion of the G. A. White Subdivision to allow commercial development in this residential-only subdivision may take their fight to City Hall on Tuesday. The Huntsville City Council is scheduled to take up the issue following a public hearing.
The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission has already rubberstamped the rezoning proposal despite emphatic testimony against it at the commission’s public hearing in July.
The change would allow for the property along 11th Street from Hickory to Normal Park, then north on the west side of Normal Park to Bois D’Arc to become commercial as well as residential. That section would almost certainly quickly become completely commercial, while the rest of that area would remain residential. The remaining property owners have publicly objected to this proposal because, as they see it, it would essentially destroy the character of the neighborhood as well add hazards and nuisances like increased traffic, noise, trash and transients.
This issue has many overtones. One is the fundamental right to determine the best use of one’s own property. Others counter that governments should have that right so they can make sure that your property is being used for the greater good of the community as a whole. This was the planning and zoning commission’s — and the developers’ —argument in July when the commission voted unanimously to side with developers, MRE. MRE is owned by Micah Slaughter, Robert McCaffety and Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Eric Johnston.
The commission made its decision after listening to residents and property owners who described the “shady” tactics MRE used to change with subdivision’s deed restrictions without the knowledge or consent of some of the homeowners. Some argued that the commission itself was conflicted on this issue, that it was not acting in the community interest but on behalf of private interests who stood to directly profit from this change.
City Council has the authority to rezone the subdivision. In 2013, MRE asked Council to rezone, but Council declined because deed restrictions that prohibited commercial development were still in place. The city has no authority to either change or enforce deed restrictions. This time MRE did an end run around some landowners, including ones who fought them in 2013, to gather affidavits in support of rezoning. Some opponents have questioned the legality of MRE’s process.
Council will conduct four total public hearings on proposals to rezone other subdivisions in the city. Council will consider associated rezoning ordinances on first reading.
The Two Creek Drainage Improvement Project will be the subject of a Council workshop session before the meeting. Council is expected to consider on first reading an ordinance allowing the city to pay an additional $7.2 million to Garney Construction. The 7-year-old project has already cost the city a lot of money in terms of staff time and resources, the Design Engineer (Klotz Associates), and the Construction Manager at Risk (Garney Construction). The city has already contracted with Garney for $2.7 million, and this $7.2 million would bring the total to just under $10 million. Add to that the amount spent prior to construction on various things as well as the amount of construction not yet contracted for (the open channel improvements and utility line relocations) and the city appears to be looking at a project costing somewhere around $13 million total. According to the city, FEMA agreed to fund about $8.8 million in project costs.