Rezoning decision could mean court for Alabaster

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 4, 2003


Alabaster Zoning Board decision to deny a rezoning request so that a commercial property could be sold for use as a church could be appealed directly to Shelby County Circuit Court.

The request to rezone the property, located at 251 Buck Creek Plaza (old Whisker’s restaurant), from B-3 (Community Business) to I (Institutional District) was made by Gary Barnett/Silverado Investment Co.

Barnett was represented at a Jan. 28 public hearing on the request by Donna Sinclair during a meeting of the Alabaster Planning & Zoning Board.

Sinclair said Barnett’s best chance to sell the property is to rezone it for sale to New Vision Christian Church.

She said Barnett had a hard time making Whisker’s succeed.

One of the problems, she said, was turnover, indicating the restaurant issued more than 300 W-2 forms in one year.

And she said Barnett

believed another small restaurant would suffer the same problems.

The Rev. Van Houser, pastor of New Vision Christian Church and former pastor of Liberty Baptist Church in Alabaster said, &uot;We are very much interested in purchasing the property from Mr. Barnett.&uot;

&uot;Our presence here is not coincidental or accidental.&uot;

He said believed the church was brought to the point of purchasing the location by the &uot;power of God,&uot; indicating the property is &uot;centrally located to do a great work.&uot;

Houser said the church wanted to &uot;invest in people,&uot; and he asked for the board’s support.

Bob Sinclair, a local real estate developer who identified himself as a friend of Houser, said he thought the reverend was led to the property.

He said he knew the city would like to keep the area as it is (commercial), but that he passed 12 restaurants on the way into the city of Alabaster and knew there were many more.

&uot;Gary Barnett needs to sell this place. He has a bonified buyer and these people are willing to spend a lot of money … to reach other people,&uot; Sinclair said. &uot;It is a good location for a church in my opinion.&uot;

He added that 95 percent of the church members live in Alabaster and would reach out to other areas. He said the people would be spending money, and asked the board to consider the rezoning.

Tyrone Quarles, an attorney and member of New Vision Christian Church, said he bought a zoning ordinance booklet for Alabaster to see if a church was precluded and did not find a single reason.

He also said the church would not be a revenue loss and that the families of New Vision Christian Church are lifelong residents of Alabaster.

Quarles said transients like himself chose to live in Alabaster.

&uot;Just as we came to live here, I think we have a right to worship here,&uot; he said.

He asked that the members of the church be allowed to pay the price. He also cited the money church members would spend at gas stations and restaurants in the city.

Quarles further pointed out that there are a number of other churches along the Highway 119 corridor in Alabaster.

Pam Wood and her husband Greg Wood, owners of Wood

Discount Pharmacy on Highway 119, spoke against the rezoning.

She said their property is located next to the former restaurant, and she and her husband were opposed to rezoning it for a church.

&uot;I would like to see industry develop down that corridor,&uot; she said. &uot;That was a big business (Whisker’s) at the time. I think another business would do well.&uot;

She also said she did not believe the spot was right for a church because it is going to be in a commercial area pushing business and shopping centers.

&uot;I think some type of residential area could better serve their cause,&uot; Pam Wood said.

Tom Martin, owner of a strip shopping center, said it is difficult to oppose a church; but he said he bought the property because it was surrounded by commercial property and he always assumed it would stay commercial to augment the shopping center he had built.

Martin wondered if the property could be re-configured to serve another type of business. He also pointed out that under Institutional zoning, the property could be used for a cemetery.

&uot;I would urge you to leave it commercial,&uot; he concluded.

Tommy Ryals, a member of both the Alabaster City Council and the Planning and Zoning Board, said, &uot;I would love to have New Vision Christian Church in Alabaster.&uot;

However, he said, &uot;A church does not need to be in a high traffic corridor. We are going to have a major shopping center across the street.&uot;

Plus, he said, for the city to develop it will need the revenue from growing businesses.

Ryals said he hoped the church would have happier nights other than the vote of the Planning and Zoning Board; but as a city planner, he said, he felt the board should not replace a revenue generator with something that is not.

&uot;I would love for the city to help New Vision find residential property,&uot; Ryals said.

However, Ryals said the city has already been contacted by other restaurants which would like to locate in the spot.

Following a motion to deny the request by Ryals with a second from boardmember Kenny Hill, the rezoning request was defeated 7-0.

Absent were Jack Zuiderhoek and Larry Burdette. Voting against the rezoning were Robert Shinpaugh, Hill, Mike Allen, Doug Baymiller, Donald Lathem, Ryals and Mary Lawson.

Following the board’s vote, Quarles informed the board of his intention to appeal the matter directly to Shelby County Circuit Court. He said that is his recommendation to the church body. But he said the church had 15 days from the date of the board hearing to appeal the matter.

Baymiller recommended: &uot;You might look at exhausting city avenues first.&uot;

Quarles said his recommendation to go directly to court with the matter was based on his impression of other city avenues of appeal.

&uot;To be perfectly honest, I don’t see the City Council any different than the zoning board. It’s obvious that the city council is not interested in the minority community,&uot; he said

He also said that despite much rhetoric he does not believe the city is interested in attracting new business.

He said he thought going directly to the court is the best option.

Alabaster City Councilmember Bobby Harris submitted a letter to the Planning and Zoning Board the night of the vote expressing his support for the rezoning request.

&uot;I fully support New Vision Christian Church in her attempt to purchase this facility and property. Highway 119 should be available to diverse populations … Rev. Van Houser and New Vision are great for our city. Please accept their desire.&uot;

Ryals said: &uot;We’re going to do our best to help them find another spot. We’d love to seem them succeed in Alabaster.&uot;

Ryals stressed the decision was only a question of not replacing a revenue-generating entity with a non-revenue-generating entity in a prime commercial spot