Helena developer seeks ‘middle ground’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Ronnie Morton knew that Monday night’s Helena City Council meeting could get ugly.

The crowded council chamber room echoed with his own friends and neighbors’ voices, and he recognized many of the faces glaring back at him as he addressed Helena Council members and the 100 or so residents in attendance.

Morton came before Helena Council seeking a property rezone for his proposed River Town subdivision along the Cahaba River, off of Highway 52 West.

Currently, the 24-acre lot is zoned for large, estate lots, but Morton proposed building smaller homes along the river in what he called a &uot;mixed-use village&uot; of houses and light commercial property.

Almost immediately after placing sketches of the River Town development upon an easel before the crowded audience, opponents lined up at the microphone to speak against the rezone request.

About a dozen residents from other Highway 52 neighborhoods, some of which Morton built, gave reasons against the rezone ranging from environmental concerns for the Cahaba River, to decreased property values.

Morton’s rezone request for the property along the Cahaba River sought to diminish the city’s 200-foot buffer for development along the river.

Some residents urged Helena Councilmembers to stick with the city’s current zoning guidelines rather than rezoning property at a developer’s request.

Morton, who has built several Helena neighborhoods, obviously did not like being the source of such heated opposition in his own town.

&uot;I really hate that I’m asking for anything that anybody doesn’t like,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m so sorry that so many of you are so opposed to it.&uot;

After opponents refused to allow council members to approve the rezone request with stipulations that Morton re-work the master plan, a deal was struck.

The council passed an ordinance that created a seven-member subcommittee to work with Morton in finding a plan that suited neighbors and developers.

The rezone request was tabled for 90 days.

The subcommittee includes representatives from the Stone Brooke, Cahaba Falls and Moss Bend neighborhoods, as well as the Helena Planning Commission, the Helena Council, the Helena Citizens’ Advisory Committee and the Cahaba River Society.

Council members agreed that Morton would return to the planning commission within 90 days with a new plan after the subcommittee reached an agreement.

Morton seemed pleased with the proposal and said he agreed to work with the subcommittee to &uot;find the middle ground or we’ll can it.&uot;

Morton suggested the committee’s first meeting occur at the clear-cut site along the Cahaba River where his River Town subdivision could go