Photo by Jon Anderson
I-459 apartment rezoning
Hoover planning consultant Bob House talks to the Hoover City Council about rezoning 273 acres along Interstate 459 from apartment use to mostly commercial use on Monday, April 4, 2016.
The Hoover City Council tonight voted 6-1 to rezone 273 acres off Interstate 459 from apartment use to mostly commercial use — against the property owners’ wishes.
City officials faced impassioned opposition from U.S. Steel, which owns more than half the 273 acres, and other property owners who say they have pending contracts to sell their land for apartment development.
Meade Whitaker, one of those other property owners, said the city choosing to rezone land against property owners’ wishes is unprecedented, highly irregular, unconscionable, a gross violation of property owners’ rights and an egregious abuse of power.
The land lies just south of I-459 on a roughly 2-mile stretch of property between Preserve Parkway and the Patton Creek shopping center.
Hoover planning consultant Bob House said the land has been zoned for apartments since 1984 but has remained undeveloped. Land use patterns in that area have changed over the years, and the land is no longer best suited for apartments, House said.
The council tonight rezoned 253 acres for commercial use and the 20 acres closest to the Paradise Acres community for single-family residential use.
House said the Alabama 150 corridor has been saturated with commercial development and there is a need for more commercial development in the city. A comprehensive land use study done for the city in 2003 indicated the property in question was best suited for a mix of commercial uses.
The property closest to the Patton Creek shopping center and the property closest to Preserve Parkway was believed best for “straight commercial development,” while property in between was deemed best suited for either a mix of commercial and office space or a live/work arrangement with businesses on the ground floor and residences above, House said. However, live/work arrangements have not proven successful in Hoover, House said.
Whitaker said it’s disingenuous for the city to claim that the property is best suited for commercial use because in 2006, the developer of the Patton Creek shopping center wanted to expand westward onto the Whitaker family’s land and the city blocked that effort.
The whole reason the property has not developed is because of the city, Whitaker said. The city’s action tonight is intentional interference in a pending real estate contract, he said.
Another representative for the Whitaker family said the Alabama 150 corridor is not saturated with commercial development. There’s still room for more commercial development in The Grove shopping center and 15 acres across the interstate that formerly was home to the Winn-Dixie grocery store, the representative said.
Photo by Jon Anderson
I-459 apartment land rezoning U.S. Steel
Jammie Cowden, director of real estate for USS Real Estate, expresses opposition to the Hoover City Council's plan to rezone 273 acres off Interstate 459 from apartment use to mostly commercial use, during a Hoover City Council meeting on Monday, April 4, 2016.
Jammie Cowden, director of real estate for USS Real Estate, a division of U.S. Steel Corp., said requests for property to be rezoned normally come from the property owners. “This case is the exact opposite,” he said.
He asked council members to put themselves in the landowners’ shoes and asked how they would feel if the city rezoned their property once they had someone interested in buying it.
“I believe no one in this room would want the city rezoning your property without your consent,” Cowden said.
He expressed extreme dissatisfaction that the city notified U.S. Steel about its intent to rezone the land with a postcard instead of reaching out to discuss any problems or issues with the company. U.S. Steel has been a solid corporate citizen in Hoover for many years and worked well with city officials up until this point, he said.
He asked the council to table the rezoning to allow time for discussion between the parties so they could try to reach an amicable solution. Councilman Jack Natter tried to table the rezoning but could not get a second from any of the six other council members.
Councilman Gene Smith made the motion to rezone the property, and the vote ended up 6-1 to rezone, with Natter casting the dissenting vote.
“Times changes, and when times change, sometimes the nature of the corridor changes,” Smith said. When that happens, it’s up to the people in office to recognize such changes and act appropriately, he said.
Smith noted that only three of the current council members, including himself, were on the council in 2006 when the extension of the Patton Creek shopping center was rejected.
Councilman John Lyda said the apartment zoning for that land just doesn’t fit what Hoover is today. Commercial and residential zoning is more appropriate, he said.
Norman Orr, an attorney for the Birmingham Association of Realtors, told the council that their action tonight was in direct conflict with the constitutional rights of private property owners.
When property owners have no assurance that the zoning for their land will stay the same, that breeds instability and hurts future development projects in Hoover and the Birmingham area as a whole, Orr said.
Whitaker said once a city takes this kind of unprecedented action, it’s easier to do it again. “It’s only a matter of degree once that first step is taken,” he said.
Bluff Park resident Curt Posey thanked the council for taking a stand to stop more apartment development in Hoover. U.S. Steel, a major landowner in Hoover, has been a good corporate citizen, but the city can’t take the number of apartments that were slated for U.S. Steel’s land, Posey said.
“We’ve got to draw a line,” Posey said. “We can’t continue to build and build and build.
The residents of Hoover want to grow responsibly and in a measured manner, Posey said.
Dan Fulton, another Bluff Park resident, had asked the council to table the matter and consider the issue more thoroughly. Hoover, the sixth largest city in Alabama, needs a reasonable amount of apartments because they provide affordable housing for people, particularly for the many people needed to fill all the retail jobs in the city, Fulton said. Apartments are good options for senior citizens as well, he said.
Plus, Fulton noted that U.S. Steel has offered to sell its land to the Hoover school board for use as a school site.
But the council went ahead and acted tonight. Cowden declined to comment further after the vote.
This article was updated at 7:34 a.m. on April 5 to indicate that Councilman Jack Natter cast the dissenting vote in the rezoning case.