By Adam Smith
A refusal by the Athens City Council to rezone property for a private Internet sales club may lead to a lawsuit.
Club owner Jay Spencer had previously asked the Athens Planning Commission to rezone property at 1310 West Elm St., from agricultural to B-2, or business district. The commission voted 6-1 on April 19 to deny the request.
On Monday night, Spencer was at the council meeting to request the property be rezoned. Spencer’s attorney, Eddie Alley, said surrounding properties do not conform to agricultural land use because the AT&T service center, county school bus garage and the Athens-Limestone emergency call center are all located adjacent to Spencer’s property. Alley said detention ponds located near the property also ensure that it isn’t fit for agricultural or residential use.
Alley said Spencer wants to build private storage on the property for members of the for-profit private club. The private storage facility, he said, would open up a job in the community because someone would be needed to manage the units.
He said the destruction that followed the April 27 tornadoes has led to an increased demand for more storage space. Lastly, he said the narrow parcel of land is ideal for storage buildings.
City Planner Mac Martin countered Alley’s presentation and said his office had been told Spencer’s request did not mention storage units and added he was confused by the request. Martin said the only way storage units can be constructed in a B-2 district is with conditional use approval.
Martin said a 2007 revision in the zoning ordinance did not allow for-profit clubs to operate in an agricultural district, so Spencer has been operating in a non-conforming use. He said Alley’s comments about the property not being fit for residential or agricultural growth was also not accurate.
Following the council’s refusal to rezone the property, Spencer said he was considering filing a lawsuit against the city.
“It’s the only option I’ve got left,” he said.
The council had been scheduled to take action to establish three new city positions as requested by Mayor Ronnie Marks at the July 7 meeting. The positions are for a communications and grant specialist, information technology director, and customer relations manager for Athens Utilities.
During a pre-council work session, council members said the action would likely be tabled until the Aug. 8 meeting. The regular session was still ongoing as of press time.
During the regular session, the council held a public hearing and assessed a cost of $6,434.50 on an unsafe structure at 839 West Strain Road. Property owner Shirley Williams thanked the council in helping demolish the house and expressed an interest in setting up a payment plan to repay the assessment.
During the work session, the council added an agenda item to approve a new phone system that could save the city up to $42,000 per year.
The system will cost about $14,500 and will take six weeks to install. It will allow the city to utilize a new fiber-optic network being installed and cancel its contract with AT&T.
Following the council work session, the council went into executive session to discuss ongoing development plans with Tom Hill, director of the Limestone County Economic Development Association.
In other business, the council:
• Heard from Joe Ivey with the Limestone Amateur Radio Emergency Service. He told the council that members of the service had put in more than 540 man-hours since Jan. 6. He estimated the hours and equipment costs had a monetary value of $107,852.69.