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Madison proposal could have wide impact
Area legislators oppose plan to de-annex land from city

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com · (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — The idea is extreme, but an area senator says a proposal to de-annex land from Madison and annex it to Huntsville calls for extreme examples that show statewide implications.

“If this bill passes, what is to keep Tuscaloosa from trying to annex parts of Auburn or Decatur from annexing beach property in Gulf Shores so it can advertise that Point Mallard Park has sandy beaches?” Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, asked.

Take that analogy closer to home. Imagine Priceville Mayor Melvin Duran’s reaction if he read a legal advertisement placed by a legislator in The Daily that announced intent to de-annex Priceville acreage so that Decatur could annex it for a major commercial development.

That is the crux of an issue that is raising blood pressures in Madison and Huntsville and creating rapid pulse beats in the Legislature, where such a thing simply hasn’t been done until now.

At issue, is a 263-acre parcel that Madison County developer Louis Breland wants to develop as an upscale retail center similar to The Summit in the Birmingham area. The land is inside Madison city limits, and Madison city officials say they want it to remain in the city. They suspect tax incentives and other breaks could be the reason for the move to de-annex.

The plot, as they say in bad melodrama, thickens.

The parcel is in the district of Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. He said no one contacted him about the proposal. That’s unusual in the Legislature, where disagreements are common, but “local courtesy” usually means lawmakers are notified about any bill affecting their districts.

Typically, lawmakers who represent an area sponsor bills for that area. In this case, a Huntsville senator is expected to handle the legislation. No one has introduced it because state law requires four weeks of legal advertising in a newspaper beforehand.

Butler, who represents Madison, too, said the earliest the bill could come up is the first week of April.

Orr and Butler plan to oppose the bill if it comes up in the Senate local legislation committee that covers Madison County. But a wrinkle in House and Senate regulations called “walking a bill through” could result in the bill reaching the full Senate floor on committee member signatures without a committee meeting.

The possibilities of shenanigans are endless.

Someone could detour the bill to another committee, probably friendly, where members would approved it over the objections of local lawmakers.

If the bill moves in that direction, then there are greater implications for the rest of the state, lawmakers say.

Butler said de-annexation from a thriving city that is capable of providing infrastructure the development needs is unprecedented. Landlocked Madison needs the development’s tax revenue to support its rapidly growing local schools, Butler said. He believes taxes may be the impetus for the de-annexation proposal.

He said Steve Raby, a lobbyist aligned with former Sen. President Pro Tem Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, told him about the plan to annex the property into Huntsville.

Barron said he agreed to draft the proposed legislation and handled submission of the required legal advertisement for the change. He said Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, could be the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

The question of sponsorship has legislators talking, Butler said. “That is anybody’s question at this point,” he said.

Orr said he supports the rights of private property owners and he wants the upscale development to succeed, but he thinks de-annexation is not the way to do it.

“I have been overwhelmed with e-mails from people in Madison who are against it,” Orr said. “On an issue that I did not campaign on, that is unusual.”

Orr said the proposal is a bad one because local officials in Madison unanimously opposed de-annexation and because the city needs the property tax revenue for schools.

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