Judge blocks Hoover from annexing land before Helena vote

Published 7:39 am Wednesday, July 19, 2023

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

A judge has sided with Helena in a civil lawsuit filed by the city on Friday, July 14 regarding land in the Indian Ford Fire District.

On Friday, the city of Helena filed the civil suit in Jefferson County to prevent the city of Hoover from annexing certain addresses within the district before a vote could be held to determine if the entire district would be annexed into Helena city limits.

Judge David Hobdy agreed with Helena originally on Monday, but a response from the city of Hoover prompted an emergency court hearing on Tuesday, July 18, which was one day after the Hoover City Council hoped to annex certain addresses from the district.

Ultimately, following the hearing at 1:30 p.m., the judge granted Helena’s request for an emergency temporary restraining order to prevent Hoover from annexing any property within the fire district until a vote is held on Aug. 8 for annexation into Helena.

“The court finds that the plaintiff and Indian Ford Fire District have met their burden of demonstrating that without the temporary restraining order, the plaintiff and Indian Ford Fire District would suffer immediate and irreparable injury, that the plaintiff and Indian Ford Fire District have no adequate remedy at law, that the plaintiff and Indian Ford Fire District at least have reasonable chance of success on the ultimate merits of their case and that the hardship imposed on the defendants by the injunction would not unreasonably outweigh the benefit accruing to the plaintiff and Indian Ford Fire District,” read court documents.

The judge used Mead Corporation v. City of Birmingham in the court order, which says “It is well recognized that once a municipality has officially commenced proceedings directed toward annexing certain territory, that a municipality retains full and exclusive jurisdiction over such territory until the conclusion of said proceedings.”

“In the interest of justice and to allow the citizens of the entire Indian Ford Fire District to have their voices heard, the city of Hoover is hearby restrained from proceeding with or starting the process of annexation on any property within the Indian Ford Fire District for a period of 10 business days from the entry of this order,” Hobdy said.

If Helena does not provide proper paperwork within the next 10 days related to the election on Aug. 8, then Hoover can request to lift the restraining order before the city’s scheduled election.

The city of Helena filed the civil suit after Hoover called a special city council meeting on Thursday, July 13 to have the first reading of several proposed annexation possibilities in the Indian Ford Fire District despite a vote scheduled for Aug. 8 to determine if the district would annex into Helena.

Helena was contacted by the fire district’s board of directors several months ago through letters, while a petition of at least 200 signatures from residents was also signed requesting to be annexed into Helena to dissolve the fire district.

Helena moved forward with the process and scheduled a special election for Tuesday, Aug. 8 for residents living in the district to vote on whether or not they wanted to annex the fire district in its entirety to the city.

The city, which has residents in Shelby and Jefferson counties, ran a legal notice shortly after to announce the special election.

With the move, the residents in the area would dissolve a 15-mill fire district tax and would instead incur a millage rate of 5 mills for Helena’s services.

Should the Jefferson County residents choose to annex into the city, nearly 2,000 more residents would be added to Helena’s city limits, but Puckett said the resources are already in place to take care of them.

The Hoover City Council, however, called the special meeting on Thursday, July 13 before their regularly-scheduled work session, in hopes of annexing portions of the district itself.

The city heard the first reading for ordinance 23-2611 during the meeting, which would annex several properties along Morgan Road in the Indian Ford Fire District into the city limits of Hoover rather than being annexed into Helena.

During the work session, the city expanded to name one of the major properties they are looking to annex, which includes a new Chevron gas station at the busy intersection of Morgan Road and South Shades Crest Road.

“This is the new gas station located at the intersection of Morgan Road and South Shades Crest Road, directly across the intersection from the Publix,” Hoover City Planner Mac Martin said during the meeting. “We are engaging in a percentage of that property being annexed in this phase and we’ll have another phase to come. I believe this also has a rebate incentive that goes along with it.”

Holdon Energy is the owner of the property.

The aesthetics of it go well above and beyond what zoning in Jefferson County permits, so that’s certainly the kind of owner we like to be a part of our family,” Martin said.

Hoover Economic Development Manager Greg Knighton confirmed there were benefits for the owners, but that it would ultimately lead to a large revenue gain for the city of Hoover.

“Their property taxes would increase. They’re a commercial property, so they would be assessed at 20 percent, so no burden on our school system in any form or fashion,” he said. “What we were able to do was to work with Holdon Energy to offer them, for three years, a 50 percent rebate, just on the sales tax on their inside sales, and also a five-year rebate of the city portion, non-education portion, of their property taxes.”

Martin said, after a 10-year period of time, the city would collect about $15.3 million in sales tax from the company.

The second reading and possible vote for those particular properties will be held during the regularly-scheduled city council meeting on Monday, July 17.

According to court documents filed on Friday, July 15, the city of Helena is seeking a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction until the vote has been held on Aug. 8. 

“Several meetings between Helena and the Board of Directors took place with Helena analyzing the economic welfare of the District, its ability to provide for the district and the ability to have the tax base necessary to service all property owners within the District,” read the official complaint. “Helena ultimately decided it could service the present and future needs of the District.”

Court documents state that the district formally petitioned to annex the entire district into Helena, and on June 12, the Helena city Council voted unanimously to accept the petition and hold a required vote.

The city then cited an article written by the Hoover Sun detailing the annexation as well as information from the work session explaining the promise of tax abatements and other benefits as Hoover interfering with the lawful election by trying to entice them to annex into Hoover limits instead.

“The city of Hoover immediately started to target certain properties within the district that were subject to the Helena ratification vote and already included in the legal description published in Helena’s resolution on June 12 for individual petitions to annex into Hoover,” read the court document. “Hoover has no desire to annex the entire district; however, they are targeting properties that they believe are contiguous to hoover that would allow them to skip certain protocols and laws to bring them into Hoover prior to the election by the district to enter Helena.” 

Hoover did file a motion to dissolve the temporary restraining order, which led to a virtual hearing on Monday and the eventual court hearing on Tuesday.

The city’s court filing argued that there were annexation requests from property owners that predated any Helena-resolved annexation election and that they should not be barred from voting on those requests.

Attention will now shift to the vote on Tuesday, Aug. 8. Should the Indian Ford Fire District vote against annexation into Helena, that would open the doors for Hoover to annex property within the district.