City approves church’s move into former Winn Dixie building

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Members of Alabaster’s First United Methodist Church will soon begin holding services and ministries in the former Winn Dixie supermarket off Alabama 119, after the Alabaster City Council voted to rezone the former grocery store during its Oct. 7 meeting.

The council voted unanimously to rezone 5.62 acres of the Alabaster Market Center from business use to institutional use to allow the church to expand into the now-vacant 44,000-square-foot space.

The move wrapped up more than three years of planning for church leaders and members, and will help solve many of the church’s overcrowding problems, said Ward 1 Councilwoman Sophie Martin.

“I am very excited for First United Methodist of Alabaster. They are absolutely bursting at the seams and running out of room right now,” Martin said. “I think this will be very beneficial for them, and for the community.”

The church’s current building occupies a 4.5-acre tract in front of the former Winn Dixie store. Although the church will continue to meet in its current building, it will hold a new children’s ministry, a contemporary worship center and a congregation fellowship area in the new building.

Because the city rezoned a portion of the Alabaster Market Center to allow use by the church, but left the remainder of the shopping center zoned for business, it presented a unique situation for the city, said Ward 7 Councilman Tommy Ryals.

“The Methodist Church has gone through a very lengthy process,” Ryals said, noting the Alabaster Planning Commission recommended the council rezone the property for the church.

“We haven’t done anything quite like this before,” Ryals added.

The church could begin holding services and events in the new building by March 2011, according to church Pastor Brian Erickson.

In other business, the council:

– Made changes to health insurance plans for city employees for the upcoming budget year.

Beginning in December, the city will stop making a flat rate contribution each month to city employee health insurance plans, and will instead pay 70 percent of the plans, regardless of the employees type of coverage.

“We know this is not the optimum program,” Ryals said, noting the city’s insurance provider likely will raise rates over the next few months. “But the good thing is that when the rates do go up, the city will cover 70 percent of that increase.”

The city will also stop making a flat rate contribution of $475 to health insurance plans for retired city employees, and will instead pay up to $479 per month for city retirees, regardless of their type of coverage.

– Agreed to fund a city engineer for the 2010-2011 budget year.

By having an in-house engineer, the city will save on the cost of hiring outside engineering firms, said Ward 2 Councilman Bob Hicks.

The city will pay the in-house engineer $76,128 per year, and will begin searching for applicants to fill the position.

– Reappointed Joseph Walden as the city’s municipal judge for the next two years.