Helena residents voice concerns about rezoning measure, development

By NATHAN HOWELL | Staff Writer

HELENA – During the July 26 Helena City Council meeting, a large number of residents voiced their concerns about a rezoning request for a property located at 2698 Helena Road.

The request was found unanimously favorable by the Planning and Zoning Commission, with the addition of certain restrictions.

The Council was then asked to vote on the measure, which would rezone the property from a single-family residential district to a special district for general business.

The request was ultimately withdrawn at the end of the meeting by the developer due to a misunderstanding regarding the restrictions included by Planning and Zoning.

Prior to its withdrawal, the request received public comment from nearly 20 residents regarding its impact on Frances Hinds, who lives in the lot adjacent to the requested property.

“I would just like for everyone to know I am not in favor of this,” Hinds said. “It is really placing a hardship on me. It is hard for me to get out of my driveway now. All of this extra business will make it even harder. I want you to know we built our house in 1959 and we have been there since. I don’t think putting businesses right in my back door is the answer. I can’t believe you would override my plea, to override my safety and peace of mind”

Family and friends spoke in support of Hinds, and also used their time to express their thoughts on general commercial development in the city.

“My concern is that you are slowly removing what made Old Town Helena famous,” Hinds’ granddaughter Rachel Hinds said. “It did not get on the map for its Chick-fil-A, Wal-Mart or Zaxby’s. It became desirable or its community, family-owned stores, history and small-town feel. If this was your sister, mother or grandmother would you still push for this development? “

“I bought a house here a few years ago because I didn’t want to leave the small-town feel,” Brittany Flores said. “I am not against growth. I love Chick-fil-A and Dollar Tree. I love that I don’t have to drive to Pelham or Alabaster for it. However, maybe it’s should stop there. Let’s not get rid of the heart of Helena by trying to bring in something new when we can still hold on to that, and maybe rezone somewhere else.”

Dan Rasmussen addressed the Council and the public to express his reasoning for wanting to purchase this land develop on it.

“It made sense to me as a developer,” Rasmussen said. “It was at the center of the business community and everyone else that lived in this development wanted to leave because of the traffic and the noise. It affected the least amount of people that it could possible affect. There are 24 other homeowners that border this property and no special restrictions were asked of me on those, and no one else has contacted me about it.”

Rasmussen ultimately decided to withdraw his request before the Council voted, due to the restrictions the rezoning would place on any potential business. He would still have the opportunity to resubmit his request and restart the rezoning process.

The Council noted the importance of having this kind of representation at each of its meetings.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is government in action,” Councilmember Chris VanCleave said. “This is the people coming before their elected officials and voicing their opinions. Do you know how many sessions where it is just us? Decisions are made here that effect everyone’s lives. Don’t let this pass you by.”