Map provided by city of Hoover
I-459 apartment rezoning
The city of Hoover is seeking to rezone about 273 acres along Interstate 459 to keep it from being developed into apartments.
The Hoover Planning and Zoning Commission tonight voted to recommend the City Council rezone 273 acres along Interstate 459 from apartment use to mostly commercial use, despite adamant objections from U.S. Steel and other property owners.
Hoover planning consultant Bob House, who was representing the Hoover City Council, said the land has been zoned for apartments since 1984, but land use patterns have changed over the years and the property is no longer best suited for apartments.
With Alabama 150 virtually saturated with businesses, there is little vacant land along that major highway for commercial development, House said.
The most recent comprehensive plan done by the city in 2003 indicated the property in question — which is situated along I-459 between Preserve Parkway and the Patton Creek shopping center — would be best for a mix of commercial uses, House said.
That study indicated the land closest to Preserve Parkway and the land closest to the Patton Creek shopping center would be best for “straight commercial” development, House said. The land in between was determined to be best used for either a mix of commercial and office use, or a “live/work” concept, with business on the ground floor and residences above those businesses, House said.
That “live/work” concept has not proven successful in Hoover, so city officials believe that C-2 commercial zoning, which is similar to most business zoning along U.S. 31 and Alabama 150, is most appropriate for the land along the interstate, House said.
The city also is recommending that about 20 acres next to the Paradise Acres community be rezoned for single-family residential use.
Photo by Jon Anderson
Hoover zoning board 2-8-16
The Hoover Planning and Zoning Commission meets on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016.
Representatives for U.S. Steel, which owns at least half the 273 acres in question, and other property owners voiced strong opposition to the rezoning, claiming the city is attempting to usurp their rights as property owners.
Jammie Cowden, an attorney for U.S. Steel, said his company has been a significant development player in Hoover for many years and been a good corporate citizen and was shocked when company officials received a legal notice indicating the city wanted to rezone its property.
U.S. Steel for about six months has been trying to get 139 acres there subdivided to make way for 820 apartments, but the Hoover Planning and Zoning Commission twice has rejected the company’s request, citing incomplete applications.
Cowden said during all the talks about U.S. Steel’s request, not once did city officials mention the possibility of rezoning that land.
“It beyond belief that the city would undertake a rezoning of this magnitude and this importance without even so much as a phone call,” Cowden said.
Meade Whitaker, who was speaking on behalf of his late father’s trust, which owns part of the property in question, said he and his family also were shocked at the city’s move.
“It is virtually without precedent to rezone property, particularly of a magnitude like this, to rezone property without the consent of property owners,” Whitaker said.
His family has a contract to sell its property, and any effort by the city to rezone the land will interfere with that contract, he said.
The city’s arguments for rezoning the property are disingenuous, he said.
The owners of the Patton Creek shopping center at one time had a contract to buy land from the Whitaker family for expansion of the shopping center, Whitaker said. His family requested to rezone its property for such a purpose, and the city refused to rezone the land for commercial use then, he said.
Norman Orr, an attorney for the Birmingham Association of Realtors, said that organization strongly opposes the rezoning of property without consent of property owners. Such a move would stymie development in the city of Hoover and the metro area as a whole, Orr said.
“Business needs stability from its government,” Orr said. They need to be able to see how government regulations will impact a project.”
Changing zoning for land without the consent of property owners breeds instability because no one can know what to expect from one day to the next, Orr said. In this case, property owners have been making plans to develop land, and the city is changing the rules at the last minute, he said. “That is fundamentally wrong.”
Riverchase resident Arnold Singer said the impassioned pleas from the property owners are not the law of the land. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than 80 years ago that cities have a right to rezone property, and changing the zoning for 273 acres is not considered “spot zoning,” where a zoning action is applied to a specific property within a larger tract and is not consistent with the city’s master plan or zoning restrictions.
It would be one thing if apartments were already on the property, but in this case, the land is vacant, Singer said.
“Their arguments, as passionate as they are, will not hold water the higher up it goes in the judicial system,” he said.
Andrew Fort, a resident in the new Magnolia Grove subdivision just across I-459, said he has talked to dozens of residents in his neighborhood, Lake Crest, The Preserve and Birchtree, and not one of them wants to see apartments on this property. They believe apartments there would hurt other property values, strain the school system and create traffic problems, he said.
“I can’t imagine putting 800 to 900 apartments there and what it would do to traffic,” Fort said.
Six of the seven planning commissioners tonight voted in favor of the rezoning. Scott Underwood, a home builder and real estate agent, abstained, saying he didn’t feel it appropriate to vote on this matter because he at one time had talked to an adjacent property owner about developing houses on their property, which is in unincorporated Jefferson County.
Hoover Councilman John Lyda, who also sits on the zoning board, made the motion tonight to rezone the property. He said land use patterns around the property in question indicate that commercial zoning is most appropriate for most of the property.
“Each case that comes before this commission has to be considered on its own merits, but at the end of the day … we have to determine what’s best for the city,” Lyda said.
Private property owners have to look out for their interests, but city officials must look out for the city as a whole, he said.
The rezoning now goes to the Hoover City Council for a vote. It likely will be on the agenda for a first reading on Feb. 15, Lyda said.