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Litmus test pushed for zoning candidates

Friday, January 13, 2006

News staff writer

A developer and long-time associate of Montevallo Mayor Sharon Anderson doesn't want anyone appointed to Montevallo's zoning board who has expressly opposed the developer's proposed project in the city.

The request from Sue Wilder White of Hoover comes amid growing acrimony centering on the end of a six-month development moratorium in Montevallo. White has asked the City Council to eliminate candidates for two vacancies on the Planning and Zoning Commission if they have signed a petition against her project.

White's proposed 800-home, 340-acre Providence development is on track to be the first major case to come before the zoning board since the development moratorium was lifted Dec. 22.

Providence is on the tentative Jan. 19 zoning board agenda for rezoning from A-O, agricultural open space, to D-2 Performance, a form of special district residential zoning. That agenda is to be finalized in a work session at 7 p.m. todayin City Hall.

Three members of the Montevallo Council have tried twice to reinstate the moratorium, failing each time in a 3-3 tie, with the latest effort Monday night.

Job criticism:

Anderson, who has acknowledged a long-standing investment club relationship with White, each time voted to create the tie that killed the moratorium extension. That action added to public criticism of the mayor's job performance during Monday's council meeting.

White made her pitch during that meeting to ban from zoning board membership anyone who signed a petition opposing the project on part of her former home, Wilderwood Farm on two-lane Spring Creek Road. White said about 100 people signed a petition opposing the development based on a preliminary plan that since has changed.

"Those people made a decision about the property before they actually heard the development being proposed," White said. "I feel that they already have an opinion formed about the property. These people signed their name to a document not knowing all the details of the development."

A coalition of dissent has grown up in recent months around lawyer Barry Woodham and his wife, Dee Woodham, a retired investment banker, whose home is across Spring Creek Road from the proposed Providence development.

Dee Woodham's analysis of the impact of impending development on the city's sewer plant sparked sufficient alarm to launch the four-month moratorium on Aug. 22. The moratorium delayed White's project, which had been scheduled for zoning action in August.

The Woodhams submitted additional petitions Monday night seeking extension of the development moratorium, bringing total signatures to more than 450.

Councilwoman Hollie Cost tried, along with Becky Cox-Rodgers and Greg Pendleton, to reinstate the moratorium. When Anderson asserted that "no moratorium is needed; the city has addressed the sewer needs," a chorus of "wrong," "not true" and "no" came from the audience of about 50 who packed elbow to elbow in the council chambers and an adjoining hallway.

Promise to keep:

Cost said that the council promised citizens the city would have a comprehensive plan in place before approving more development.

"I am not comfortable with moving forward until we have done what we said we were going to do," she said. Her remarks received applause from the pro-moratorium audience, despite the measure's failing once again.

The council members began arguing among themselves whether the moratorium was a flat 120 days or whether they had promised to hold off new development until a plan was actually completed.

"We ought to live up to our word," Pendleton said.

"Maybe you don't remember," Anderson said. "The moratorium was for 120 days."

Cost tried to calm the waters, seeking to delay a vote "until council members have an opportunity to consult with their constituents."

Cox-Rodgers nixed that idea: "I have consulted," she said.

E-mail: nwilstach@bhamnews.com