Judge rules in favor of Pelham BOE regarding land battle with Helena

Published 6:10 pm Wednesday, May 11, 2022

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

COLUMBIANA – A decision has been reached regarding the battle for land adjacent to Pelham High School but in the city of Helena after a lawsuit was filed by the city against the Pelham Board of Education back on Nov. 29, 2021.

The Pelham BOE had started clearing the 52 acres of land on the property it purchased in June of last year to build a sports practice field and parking lot on.

The lawsuit filed by Helena claimed that Pelham’s clearing of the land and construction activities, and the proposed use of the property by the Pelham Board of Education, are contrary to the Helena zoning regulations and other applicable permitting ordinances and are being conducted without the necessary permits and approvals of Helena.

The property is zoned as special district—single family residential use under the Helena zoning ordinance, and according to Helena, any use other than for single family residences is prohibited.

On Friday, May 6, however, presiding Judge Patrick E. Kennedy disagreed.

“Temporary restraining order relief has been prayed for and is hereby denied,” the judge said in his ruling. “No party to this action has supported its prayer for relieve with averments that support damages that do not have an adequate remedy law.”

Kennedy said that as to the balance of the claims, the Pelham Board of Education exists and its power to act flows from Alabama law.

He quoted Alabama Code 16-11-9 saying, “with all the power necessary or proper for the administration and management of the free public schools within such city and adjacent territory to the city which has been annexed as part of the school district which includes a city having a city board of education.”

He also said that Alabama Code 16-11-16, which says “playgrounds for the benefit of children who are bona fide residents of and living within” Pelham, was in favor of the Pelham BOE.

“Athletic practice fields are play grounds as defined by Section 16-11-16,” Kennedy said. “It requires that the Pelham Board’s actions benefit the children who are bona fide residents of and living within Pelham. It does not require that it provide those benefits within the Pelham Board’s school district. The Pelham Board is authorized by law to acquire, and in some instances condemn, real property and to make additions, alterations, and repairs to the property, as long as its actions are necessary or proper for the administration and management of free public schools.”

He added that city zoning ordinances do not apply to the operation of governmental function by a government body and that the Pelham BOE is a government body.

“The Pelham Board has the power to make any lawful action that it deems necessary and appropriate for the management of public schools,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said only two actions remain before the court—a request from Pelham’s board for permanent injunctive relief and money damages.

The Pelham BOE has 14 days to address why the city of Helena does not qualify for immunity to any and all claims, for negligence, carelessness, unskillfulness and recklessness.

“As to the request for permanent injunctive relief, the overarching issue in this action is the education of the children of Shelby County whether they reside in the Pelham Board of Education’s school district or the city of Helena,” Kennedy said. “The filings in this action suggest to this court that there has been a lack of collaboration to achieve that goal. That is unfortunate and this court encourages the parties to revisit their dedication to working together to achieve the government function of educating our children.”

With that in mind, Kennedy ordered the two parties to file a joint report within 30 days informing the court as to any attempts to mediate the remaining issues.