Town center master plan approved

HELENA – City council members approved the master plan and rezoning request Monday for a town center planned along Highway 261 after hammering out details at a work session last Thursday.

Laurie Sharp, attorney for Store Growth and Development’s Dan Rasmussen, recapped specific details of the plan that officials, residents and Rasmussen have been wrestling over for months.

“I know this has been a long process, but I thank the council and planning and zoning commission for working diligently with us,” Sharp said. “We are all Helena residents, and I think everyone has Helena’s best interest at heart.”

The proposal calls for fine points such as the inclusion of a 40-foot buffer between the property and Falliston subdivision, coordination of exterior paint to earth tones and restrictions on signage.

Several council members continued to express concern about the effects various stages of the development would have on surrounding neighborhoods.

Councilman Jerry Pate requested that Rasmussen ensure as much existing foliage would remain in place as possible.

“We went through a deal several years ago where trees were identified, but the cutters went down and cut down those beautiful trees and the whole project got stopped,” Pate said.

Meanwhile, Councilman Tom Lefebvre and others wanted light pollution to be restricted. “I’d like to see a minimal use of lighting,” Lefebvre said. “Only what’s necessary for safety.”

Falliston resident Ann Mitchell addressed the council and Rasmussen with thanks.

“I do appreciate the compromises,” Mitchell said. “I think we can live with this.”

Changes from the original plan were made, including the elimination of three properties and the addition of pedestrian access sidewalks along both the east and west sides of Highway 261.

The council requested that a building plan for the east section of the development along Highway 261 be submitted prior to construction. These specifics were left off the plan because the locations of entranceways had to be hashed out with the Alabama Department of Transportation.

The plan was approved 4-0 with Mayor Penhale abstaining and Collen Lenz absent.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of votes cast in favor of the town center’s master plan. The plan was approved without a dissenting vote; however; Mayor Penhale abstained from voting and Councilwoman Collen Lenz was absent