UPDATED Aug. 10, 2015–Annexation passes the state legislature on its second try. Buffalo Rock says no thanks, gives no explanation.
Homewood’s second attempt this year to annex pockets of unincorporated Jefferson County land that might attract nuisance developments–such as the notorious digital billboard–passed the state legislature today, but in a different form than it was first submitted in May.
Missing from the bill was Buffalo Rock office/warehouse property at 142 Citation Court. Homewood City Attorney Mike Kendrick, whom the council credited for steering the bill to approval, said the bill sponsor, Sen. Jabo Waggoner, refused to shepherd the bill through the Senate as long as Buffalo Rock was included. Mr. Kendrick said he didn’t know the reasons and wasn’t privy to the discussions between the state senator and Buffalo Rock executives. But the property was removed from the second draft.
Buffalo Rock’s response was less clear: “…The city elected not to have us included in that [second draft] for whatever reason they have,” said company Chief Operating Officer Matthew Dent. Dent said the company emphasized it wants to continue being a good corporate citizen of Homewood.
The bill was sponsored by Waggoner and Sen. Rodger Smitherman. State Representative David Faulkner was also credited for his work on the bill, which now goes to the governor for signing.
The following account, published in July, is accurate — except for all the parts about Buffalo Rock.
First annexation attempt fails
The Alabama Legislature ended its regular session June 5 and along with it the city’s attempt to annex 11 properties in unincorporated Jefferson County that are subject to its more relaxed zoning rules. The islands of county land came under scrutiny this spring when outdoor advertiser New Point Digital erected an oversized digital billboard on one of them, a Circle K at 1250 Columbiana Road, an act that sparked a rabid backlash from Homewood residents living across the road, and a boycott led by social media targeting the billboard owner and his clients.
Leery of a repeat performance by another sign company exploiting lax Jefferson County regulations, the council then moved to bring the Circle K and other properties into Homewood through an act of the state legislature, one of three annexation procedures available to Alabama municipalities. It is this bill which was carried over out of committee rather than reaching the Senate floor for a vote, perhaps because Sen. Waggoner wasn’t present, according to a Senate clerk. [It was reported on 7/14/15 by Homewood councilman Fred Hawkins that Sen. Waggoner was present but chose deliberately to have the matter carried over to another session.] Whatever the details, Homewood freshman state representative, lawyer David Faulkner, said several issues affected the bill’s fate: The Homewood resolution was received with barely enough time to be advertised, as a local bill must be, before the end of the session. Lawmakers this session were consumed with more important budget issues, Faulkner said, and there were some unanswered questions about the measure, such as whether Homewood officials had informed all the property owners of the bill.
They had not.
“We thought they had talked to the owners,” Faulkner said. “And in the Senate there was all this fighting amongst themselves over issues that had nothing to do with this. They (Homewood) will have to re-introduce it and re-advertise it.”
The resolution addressed annexing the following parcels, all of which lie on or west of Green Springs Highway:
- 201 Green Springs Highway owned by Rivas Justo and Cesar Gonzales (San Miguel restaurant).
- 1250 Columbiana Road, owned by Circle K Stores, Inc.
- 1 West Lakeshore Drive, owned by One West Associates Inc. (professional office).
- Lakeshore Drive, owned by Southeast Medical Homewood LLC (2 adjacent parcels).
- 209 Citation Court West, owned by Tyler Henry.
- 129, 137, 159, and 167 Citation Court, owned by Bobby Ward.
142 Citation Court, owned by Buffalo Rock Co., Inc.
Mr. Faulkner said he spoke only to Buffalo Rock, which didn’t object to the annexation but had not been informed of it either. However, property owner Bobby Ward, contacted on Wednesday, said he wasn’t informed of the city’s attempt to annex his four properties on Citation Court, and would oppose another attempt to avoid paying higher city property taxes. A person in charge at the San Miguel Restaurant on Green Springs didn’t answer visits or calls about the annexation attempt. Other owners have not been contacted for this story.
Since the New Point billboard issue blew up in early March, Jefferson County has taken steps to make sure any such sign application comes before the County Commission before being approved. The New Point sign met county zoning and sign regulations and was approved with no commission notice.
While Homewood is interested in closing nearby zoning and tax jurisdiction gaps, its annexation maneuver sidestepped the Raleigh Avenue Baptist Church, a prominent West Homewood property that is adjacent to I-65 and remains in unincorporated Jefferson County adjacent to houses and a Hampton Inn. A city zoning employee said it was unlikely that a billboard would be permitted here, even under the county’s lax 300-foot rule, due to proximity to residences. Homewood’s billboard regulations set a required 600-foot distance between billboards and residential buildings.