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Hartselle delays vote on site-plan amendment

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — Worried that a site-plan amendment was "border-line" anti-business, Jeff Johnson persuaded the Planning Commission to table it.

"I'm not saying we're there, but we getting close," Johnson, of the city Department of Development, said following Tuesday's meeting.

Here's the situation: Hartselle has several lots on U.S. 31 and Alabama 36 that are zoned business even though people occupy the homes.

If people stop living in a home and a lawyer wants to use it for an office, for example, the proposed amendment would require the lawyer to do a site plan, as if he were constructing a new business.

The lawyer would be required to survey the property, landscape, curb and gutter and pave a parking lot.

"I'm afraid this is just a little bit much," said Johnson.

Commission member Jim Martin disagreed.

"When we have a residence that is converted, the owner should have to meet the same requirements, as if it is bare ground," Martin said.

Martin wanted Johnson to explain what the commission is trying to accomplish.

"Today, I don't have the wording," he answered.

The Planning Commission's vote would be a recommendation to the City Council.

"I can tell you that the council probably wouldn't approve this with its present wording," Councilman Bill Smelser said.

Smelser, who is also on the commission, said he supports trying to make the city as appealing as possible.

"But the council will ask if something like this is going to penalize people trying to go into business," he said.

'Undue burdens'

"We've got to balance this with undue burdens it may put on businesses trying to come to Hartselle," added commission member Doug Moss.

As written, the amendment requires more of people converting homes to businesses than it does of someone moving into an existing business.

If an accountant wants to move in a home in a business district with a paved driveway and spectacular landscaping, for example, the accountant would have to go through the site-plan requirements.

If the same accountant wanted to move into an existing business with a gravel driveway and no landscaping, that accountant would not go through the site-plan requirements.

"I'm just not sure if this is fair," Johnson said. "I think this amendment would be detrimental to properties already zoned business."

Another component of the proposed amendment would require commercial additions of 20 percent or greater to meet site-plan requirements.

If an existing counseling office, for example, wanted to add a room, the office would go through the site-plan process, which takes between two and three months.

"I know I suggested the 20 percent, but I think this is too small," Johnson said.

Johnson used several existing businesses as examples to illustrate why the 20 percent was too much of a burden.

The commission agreed to meet with the business community and Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce before voting on the amendment.

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