By Alison James
Associate Editor

“We are trying too hard to build it back up to where it needs to be. I certainly don’t want liquor stores, tobacco shops and whatever … I certainly don’t want that right next door to me.”

Drawing this concern from Beatrice Allen and similar concerns from her neighbors was a rezoning request on Tuesday’s Planning Commission agenda.

Ray Herring’s request to rezone four lots on Clanton Street and 1015 Lake Street – from a C2 commercial zone to a less-restrictive C3 commercial zone – brought several community members to the public hearing Tuesday.

Herring had recently been informed that his practice of outdoor storage of cars on his property was illegal in a C2 zone.

“I’d like to park some cars – use the vacant land to park cars,” Herring said. “Temporary storage – like a week or two weeks.”

In discussing the rezoning at the Feb. 18 work session, commission members expressed hesitance to approve the measure, in large part because of what a C3 zone could allow in the future, beyond simple outdoor storage of vehicles. It was this possibility that stirred Bishop Kenneth Carter of Christ Temple Holiness Church on Clanton Street, one of the several area residents who attended to oppose the rezoning.

“You start out parking cars, but then the next year it could be clubbing or something,” Carter said. “I’m not against the business, but I can’t support this.”

Allen, in addition to her concerns about liquor and tobacco stores, expressed concerns that cars would begin to overflow into a vacant lot in that area that belongs to her.

“They’re not going to park behind it. They’re not going to park on the side of it. We don’t need that kind of business in our neighborhood,” Allen said.

Others spoke about the dangers the rezoning would pose to the children – by sending down the wrong path because of night clubs and liquor stores, and by endangering them with increased traffic.

At the Feb. 18 work session, in light of the commission hesitancy on the rezoning, another option was suggested. Commissioners considered the possibility of changing the definition of a C2 zone to allow conditional use outdoor storage of vehicles – meaning the practice would be allowable, dependent upon commission approval. Planning Director Jerry Kelly informed the commission that he had scheduled the meeting, as directed, for Feb. 28 at 9 a.m. and began drafting the language for a new C2 zone with input from attorney Guy Gunter but said, “in our recommendation to you, if it gets to that point, (planning staff) will not support what you have directed us to write, but that’s at the pleasure of the planning commission.”

Councilwoman Patsy Jones also came to speak for constituents in her ward who desired to oppose the rezoning but were unable to attend the meeting. She opposed both the rezoning as well as the called meeting and possibility of changing the definition of the C2 zone.

“It goes in the back door of what we’re rejecting right now,” said Jones of the called meeting. “You are slapping us as citizens in the face.”

Jones spoke of the efforts the citizens have made to improve the quality of their neighborhood and urged the commission not to recommend anything that would damage the character of the neighborhood.

“That is exactly what is going to happen when you consider a C3 zone,” Jones said. “I ask the planning commission to follow the law that is there for us because that is the only thing we have to protect us, as citizens living there. (Additionally), conditional approval is based on each one of you making an opinion, and your opinion may be different from the citizens who live there, who have to be subjected to that.”

Gene Tucker, speaking on behalf of 400 Clanton St., pointed out that the request is not to bring anything new or change anything in the neighborhood – only to continue what they have been doing.

“There won’t be people ripping up and down the road in cars,” Tucker said. “We’re wanting to use this property as we’ve always used it. We just want to continue doing what we’ve always done – again, not knowing that we were doing it illegally.”

Tucker suggested that the opposition to what they are doing arose when another person stored a much larger number of cars in the area and moved them in and out during the night, disturbing the neighborhood.

Following the public hearing, Herring withdrew his request to rezone the five lots. The called, open meeting will be held Friday as scheduled to consider the possibility of adding a conditional use section for outdoor vehicle storage to a C2 zone.

The commission also:

– ratified the subdivision of Northeast Opelika Industrial Park for Hanwha expansion

– approved conditional use pending ALDOT approval and with staff recommendations for a new Taco Bell on Columbus Parkway

– voted to amend the zoning map for 1460-2200 block of Gateway Drive, 2400-2600 block of First Avenue, 204 N. 26th St., 1900-1950 block of Cunningham Drive, 2006-2213 block of Airport Road and 3000 Hi Pack Drive.

– recommended text amendments to the definition of Package Liquor Store and Convenience Store and to amend Section 7.3 Use Categories matrix tables concerning Package Liquor Store

– discussed an upcoming planning commission webinar