Saddle Lake annexation sparks debate among residents
By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor
The Alabama Senate likely will approve a bill on March 18 paving the way for residents in the Saddle Lake Farms neighborhood to decide if they want to be annexed into Alabaster, but not all Saddle Lake residents are seeing eye-to-eye on the issue.
State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the Senate will pass a bill on March 18 to annex a piece of Saddle Lake into Alabaster. If approved, the bill will make Saddle Lake Farms contiguous to Alabaster city limits, and would pave the way for neighborhood residents to vote on annexing Saddle Lake into Alabaster.
Saddle Lake, which is off Massey Road and contains about 200 homes, currently is in unincorporated Shelby County.
“It does not force anyone into the city limits,” Ward said of the bill during a March 17 interview. “It will just allow the homeowners association to vote on annexing into the city of Alabaster.”
After the bill passes the Senate, it will move on to the state House of Representatives for its consideration. If passed by the House, the bill will move on to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley for approval.
If the legislative annexation is approved, it would allow Saddle Lake residents to begin a petition to annex into Alabaster. If the petition receives the required number of signatures, neighborhood residents could then present the petition to the Alabaster City Council to consider.
If the council receives the petition with the required number of signatures, it likely will vote on the matter during its April 14 or April 28 meeting, council members said previously.
If the City Council passes a resolution supporting the annexation, Shelby County Probate Judge Jim Fuhrmeister will set an election date within 40 days of the council’s action, according to Alabaster City Manager George Henry.
Saddle Lake resident Phillip Lusco, citing school attendance concerns, said he is strongly in favor of annexing the neighborhood into Alabaster.
Beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, some students who live in unincorporated Shelby County but who are currently zoned for Alabaster schools will begin transferring to other schools in Shelby County. The gradual school zoning change was a result of separation negotiations between the Shelby County School System and the Alabaster School System, which broke away from the county school system in July 2013.
Among the many benefits to joining the City, the overwhelming majority of residents have children and don’t want their children removed from the Alabaster school system,” Lusco wrote in a March 17 email.
Lusco and Alabaster City Council President Scott Brakefield said Saddle Lake would benefit from round-the-clock fire and police protection if annexed into the city, and said the service would cause homeowners’ insurance rates to drop.
Lusco also claimed Saddle Lake home values would see an “estimated 20 percent decrease as a result of the change in school zoning if not annexed into Alabaster.
Brakefield and Lusco claim Saddle Lake resident Freddy Ard, the chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party, has “applied political pressure” to House of Representatives members in an effort to block the bill annexing property adjacent to Saddle Lake.
“It’s very sad and unfortunate that he is going to cut it off at this level,” Brakefield said during a Feb. 17 interview, noting he was unsure if the bill will pass the House. “Unfortunately, we’ve hit a big bump in the road.”
Ard said he is opposed to Saddle Lake annexing into Alabaster, but denied using his position with the Republican Party to fight the issue.
“Unfortunately, I have been mischaracterized as a leader in this issue, and I’m really not,” Ard said during a Feb. 17 interview. “There are a number of (Saddle Lake) residents who are also opposed to this. I don’t want to be misleading and say it’s the majority, but it’s certainly not isolated.
“The legislators got comments from me and others stating our concerns and objections. They have my views,” Ard said. “But I made it clear I was reaching out as a homeowner. This is totally separate from my job with the Republican Party.”
Ard said he believes Saddle Lake residents would vote to annex into the city if the Legislature makes the neighborhood contiguous to Alabaster city limits, and said he has “financial objections” to being in the city – specifically with property tax increases. Ard also said he has concerns about potential future development near Saddle Lake if the property is annexed into Alabaster.
State Reps. Kurt Wallace, R-Maplesville, and Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, said no decisions have been made on annexing the property next to Saddle Lake. After the bill passes the state Senate on March 18, Shelby County’s House delegation will attempt to “come up with a solution that will work for everyone” before voting on the matter, Wallace said.
“I see both sides fully. There are two victims in this,” Wallace said of those who want to be annexed for school reasons and those who don’t want to annex for financial reasons. “I am extremely compassionate toward the residents out there.
“We are going to continue to work through this,” Wallace said. “I am comfortable I’m going to vote my conscience.”
Hill said the House likely will not vote on the matter until the first week of April.
“We are trying to come up with a final plan. I don’t know what that will be right now, but we are discussing it,” Hill said during a March 17 interview. “We will work through this.”