Property owners in limbo

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

PELHAM &8212; Almost four years ago Michael Cornett and residents in his neighborhood signed contracts with AIG Baker Shopping Center Properties LLC to have their property rezoned from R-1 Single Family District to B-2 General Business District.

At the time, Cornett, who has lived in his home on Pope Drive for 11 years, thought he was making a smart move for his family. Now Cornett said he is stuck with property he can&8217;t update or sell.

&8220;It&8217;s ridiculous,&8221; Cornett said. &8220;I thought I was going to be able to sell my house for my kids and get us a farm and be happy.&8221;

According to residents, AIG Baker, a company specializing in commercial development, promised to purchase property in the Blueberry Hill Estates neighborhood in 2004 in order to develop a shopping center. Residents said when those plans fell through, AIG Baker canceled their contracts, giving property rights back to the owners but leaving the area commercially zoned.

Cornett didn&8217;t realize the predicament he was in until he attempted to add on to his home and city officials asked him to stop construction. Then when he and his lawyer came before the planning and zoning commission, Cornett&8217;s request to rezone his property was denied.

&8220;We really have not done any spot zoning. Usually, it&8217;s just the reverse; we try and get anyone within a zone to comply with that zoning,&8221; planning and zoning member Billy Phillips said. &8220;This would be an unprecedented move I feel. I just don&8217;t think we need to open that can of worms.&8221;

Cornett&8217;s attorney William Bradford said the residents are in a tough spot because the property cannot be easily rezoned and there is no solid hope for selling it in the near future.

&8220;These folks are stuck living in residential homes in a commercial district,&8221; said

Bradford. &8220;I don&8217;t think anybody realized at the time &8212; I know Mike didn&8217;t &8212; that he can&8217;t add on to his house. Even if it burned more than 50 percent of his house, he couldn&8217;t rebuild it.&8221;

C.T. Daniels owns the most land in the area with a total of nine acres. He said he would like to keep the property commercial if it could be sold.

&8220;I believe I can sell my property for 70 or 80 percent of the more than $1 million appraisal (AIG) Baker gave me,&8221; Daniel said.

But even Daniel said the inability to do anything to his property, and high taxes, make it difficult for him to not want it rezoned, in some way, back to residential.

In order to get the rezoning, all of the original property owners that signed an agreement with AIG Baker would have to agree for the property to return to residential zoning. AIG Baker could not be reached for comment before press time.