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Hartselle commission won't try to redefine family in ordinance

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

HARTSELLE — The Planning Commission agrees that Hartselle probably needs to change the city's definition of a family.

But commission members said they will not address the ordinance, noting that the City Council should make this decision.

"This is something we can
do and put some teeth in, but
it would only be a recommendation to the council," Chairman Jerry Putman said at
Tuesday's Planning Commission meeting.

Putman spoke in response to David Woods of 1405 Edgewood St. Woods has tried since February to get the council to change the definition of single-family residence in its zoning ordinance.

In some municipalities, councils have ordinances to restrict how many people can reside in one home.

In Provo, Utah, in 2003, for example, the city redefined family to reduce the number of "baching singles" who could reside in a home if they were not related to the homeowner.

"I want you to be aware of what is going on," he told the commission.

Hartselle currently defines family as "any number of individuals living together as a single housekeeping unit and doing their cooking on the premises."

"Hartselle's definition of
family is rather loose," Woods said.

Jeff Johnson of the Department of Development serves on the commission and has attended council meetings when Woods has broached the subject.

He said the family definition has been in Hartselle's ordinance since 1967. He warned the commission that trying to define family has gotten several municipalities sued.

"The definition of family is just one of hundreds of issues that needs to be addressed in our ordinance," Johnson said.

Johnson said the council doesn't want to "piecemeal" the amendments.

"We have money in the budget to address this in the next fiscal year (which starts in October)," he said.

Councilman Bill Smelser, who serves also on the commission, said the council can't target any particular group.

"We want to look at all the issues," he said.

Woods said his concerns are about protecting property value. While not naming the specifics, he conceded that some of his family members had suffered in Athens and Decatur because of those cities' definitions of family.

"I want you to know that I don't have any agenda against any group of people," Woods said.

Woods gave commission members examples of what he called successful "occupancy codes" that other cities have adopted.

City Attorney Larry Madison has told the council that state law is not clear in defining a family.

He advised the council to look at the entire zoning ordinance and not just the one section in which Woods is interested.

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