Town Hall meeting, May 20th, Lee Community Center
Audience attendance: 80
City staff: Vanessa McGrath, Homewood Planning and Engineering
The following are notes on the proceedings of a town hall meeting called by Ward 1 representative Britt Thames in the wake of a controversial rezoning request to convert residential property in Rosedale to Mixed Use (residential and commercial together). The Planning Commission on April 1 tied 3-3* on the request to recommend the rezoning of two vacant duplexes on 2756 B. M. Montgomery Street from NPD (Neighborhood Preservation District). The matter therefore came to the city council in May with an unfavorable recommendation for passage. In the face of such division, the council postponed its vote to June 9. The town hall meeting was held on Tuesday, May 20 beginning at 6 p.m., and lasting 2 1/2 hours. Those commenting overwhelmingly opposed this, or any, rezoning in their community.
The developers speak:
Terri Slaughter is a marketing professional who says he is trying to redevelop distressed property in Rosedale via the faith-based nonprofit, Simon of Cyrene and in the spirit of the principles of “New Urbanism,” which features mixed use (live/work) spaces. He is working with contractor Tim Coker on the present project, and the venture has invested $600,000 so far in buying 10 in Rosedale, of which one lot containing two vacant duplexes are the subject of the current rezoning.
The duplex property is adjacent to a commercial-zoned vacant lot on the edge of a fully developed commercial area near Central Avenue. The venture would involve rebuilding the duplexes to resemble single-family houses. The houses would then be leased to a holding corporation formed by Mr. Coker at $1,200/month for 15 years. Under the partners’ plan, the buildings would be used to house graduate-level interns from various fields interested in studying the principle of “new urbanism” in action. One half of the southern-most duplex would be a work studio, hence the “live/work” zoning request. Rosedale residents, however, expressed concern about the proposed use, fearing further encroachment of commercial uses into the neighborhood.
Those in favor of the rezoning cited the potential of improving the vacant buildings. Two speaking in favor where former employees of Mr. Slaughter. One resident said he was in favor of having a ministry in the area, too. Mr. Thames commented that allowing an MXD rezoning protects a neighborhood from commercial zoning. Mr. Slaughter and others in favor of the move have also said that rezoning the duplexes MXD would halt any further rezoning to commercial north of the duplexes.
Speaking against the measure, a Rosedale resident asked why the developers didn’t just build houses. To this, a property owner and former Rosedale resident, Mr. Lee (whose family is the namesake of the Lee Center), criticized Rosedale residents several times for allowing the condition of their houses to deteriorate: “No one wants to live in Rosedale; the houses are run down, and people who do not improve property should not complain.”
Another Rosedale resident said the neighborhood has battled rezoning since 1984. He said neighborhood property has been reduced from 160 acres to 14 acres now. He didn’t accept the claim that MXD zoning halted commercial encroachment, saying that using part of a building for commercial is the same as adding commercial. He asked Ward 1 representatives Britt Thames and Michael Hallman to “represent the majority” in Rosedale that oppose the rezoning.
Residents also complained about increased traffic on the street. They said that Iron Tribe traffic began at 5:30 a.m. with traffic increasing throughout the day until a 5 p.m. “nightmare.” The discussion turned to other neighborhood problems, rental properties, subsidized housing, an 18-wheeler parked on a nearby street.
Residents young and old stood to talk, some asking whether Rosedale had a historical designation, and if so, what practical application did it have to zoning. Mr. Thames commented that the city’s Historical Commission was supposed to recommend zoning districts in the city, however, only one commission seat has been filled so far. Several residents said past efforts to establish a protective historic designation had failed to make progress; the history of the black Rosedale community was also a history of so-called plans being imposed on it from outside. Although many said they would welcome any rebuilding, they opposed rezoning.
Finally, a visibly angry resident asked Mr. Thames how he would vote. Mr. Hallman said he would vote no to rezoning NPD; Mr. Thames said he “would do what Rosedale wants him to do.” [However, it is the majority vote of the 11-member council that will decide.]
The developers answer: To concerns about traffic and parking, Mr. Coker said there was parking space behind the building, with alley access. He was agreeable to a having a buffer between the houses and condominiums.
Mr. Slaughter, seeming frustrated, asked the audience: “If people can live here as students, would they be welcomed?” However, a resident responded that Mr. Slaughter had taken his request to the city authorities before talking to the community. She said she was uncomfortable with Rosedale children being approached (to participate in the ministry activities) without their permission, and asked if this would be tolerated if the situation were reversed and the children were white.
The dialog becoming heated, Ms. McGrath and Mr. Thames made concluding remarks and the meeting was adjourned at 8:30 p.m.
*Voting for the measure were Fred Hawkins, James Riddle and James Ponseti. Voting no were Michael Brandt, Fred Azbik, and Billy Higginbotham.