Opelika City Council votes to amend ordinances pertaining to exemptions for religious organizations in the city’s three historic districts

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Photo by Robert Noles Opelika Observer

By Michelle Key
Publisher

With an unanimous vote, the Opelika City Council voted to suspend the 2-reading rule and voted to approve ordinances to amend Section 5 of the city’s three historical preservation ordinances.

After weeks of input from city residents, the ordinances were presented to the council for their consideration. The ordinances as approved will amend Section 5 to provide that properties currently owned by religious organizations will remain exempt. However, properties acquired by religious organizations after the effective date of these ordinances will not be exempt from Historic Preservation Commission regulation and will be subject to all regulations of the HPC.

Three of the five council members offered personal statements regarding their decision to vote to approve the amending of these ordinances. Councilman Dozier Smith T spoke from the heart as he read his prepared statement.

“This has been a complicated issue. I see the need to protect our history I see the need to protect our beautiful homes and neighborhoods. I see the need to protect those people that have invested so much of their time and money to restoring these beautiful homes. I see and appreciate the good the Historical Preservation Society has done for our city. I see and appreciate the good the Historic Preservation Commission has done and can do to assist in the preservation of our history,” Smith T said. “Our history is so important.”

“I also see the important and interval role our churches play in the very fabric of our city. I see the beauty of the buildings but more importantly, the beauty of the people that make up their memberships. I see the good they do for the very least of these in our midst. But I also see written in the laws of the State of Alabama and federal government that pertain to land use regulations. They have protections that we as individuals do not have. But I also see good people, I see good friends on both sides of this issue and that’s made it difficult. It hasn’t been an easy decision. But after much prayer and thought I decided to vote for these ordinance amendments,” Smith T stated. “I believe this is the right decision. This will help preserve our history which is vital to our community and while also allowing churches maintain their footprint they now hold.”

Councilwoman President Pro-Tem Patsy Jones also spoke to those present. “This has been a difficult decision for all of us but at the same time we are charged as [elected] officials to make decisions that would impact all people. In doing that, my vote has been because there were existing property owners that have come to the table thinking and knowing that there was an exemption. We are trying to make sure that all of those people stay in that same category and those thereafter will comply because it is important that our history is preserved. We have tried to make sure that the ones before are protected, as well as those coming after and making sure that our community stays with the integrity that we want,” Jones said. “I feel that it (approval of ordinance amendment) does help all people that will be impacted.”

Councilman David Cannon had the following to say about the difficulty in making this decision. “This is one of those types of issues that comes up that nobody likes to deal with. We need to make our own decision as to how we’re going to vote but at the same time we need to pay attention to what we hear. This is one of those situations where it has been outstandingly supported that we do this by the numbers of people that we have heard from. So we listened,” said Cannon.

These newly approved ordinances will take effect and be enforced
immediately upon their adoption and publication as required by law.

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