Calera City Council passes budget, discusses Waterford development

Published 5:14 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2023

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

CALERA – Tensions were high on multiple fronts during a regularly scheduled City Council session in Calera on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

Prior to the council meeting, a work session was held in which councilmembers discussed security and safety concerns regarding a fence at one of Calera’s football fields.

Another discussion was held in which members of the council, including Kay Turner, Calvin Morgan and Debbie Byers, clarified that their previous votes against the organization of Calera’s entertainment district were in fact not against the district itself but the annual review that was tacked on to the proposal when it came time to vote.

“The ordinance clearly has provisions if we want to review it or change it,” Turner said. “The ordinance has that, so there is no need for that (the annual review) to be attached to the vote as it was done. I did not vote against the entertainment district. I voted no to the annual review.”

Additionally, the work session also covered discussion on the city’s move to recommend to adjust garbage collection fees in the amount of an increase of $2. Last adjusted in 2006, even with the rate increase for Calera’s garbage collection fees, the cost for residents would still fall well under surrounding municipalities.

“All garbage (sanitation) has is $27,000 and we need a $325,000 garbage truck,” said Kelly Ellison, the city’s finance director. “So, unfortunately that shows it is just not self-supporting.”

Councilmember Turner however expressed her concerns regarding the increase and noted her wish that the city had further explored options beside a rate increase and that moving forward, the city should focus on the essential priorities.

“We don’t need to produce spending as we did in the current fiscal year,” Turner said. “We didn’t get any help from the county or any other resource, but we spent $750,000 on fancy flashing lights for when a touchdown is scored. That cost the city $750,000, so my thing is we need to look at what our priorities should be. Our essentials should come first, our essentials being that we need two garbage trucks.”

At the forefront of the scheduled session, the Council opened the floor to a public hearing revolving around the proposed development of Waterford PUD (Planned Unit Development) South, which is meant to be a development extending the Waterford subdivision that currently comprises Waterford PUD North. This proposed southern development would be placed in the recently rezoned section south of Highway 70, which would bisect the Waterford development following current plans.

Several citizens expressed their grievances and concerns surrounding the proposed development. With several citing the issues of traffic, safety, neighborhood amenity placement and unfulfilled promises by Waterford developer John Reamer as their chief concerns.

“Technically we shouldn’t even be here tonight,” said Lydia Godwin, a resident of the Waterford subdivision. “Because it says here (on a previous city agreement) that no development, it doesn’t say that no building permit will be issued, it says no development will be approved (until preexisting requirements and agreements are fulfilled).”

Despite these initial criticisms, Reamer also spoke at the hearing and asked that the Council consider the development of the South PUD and the extensions to the North PUD as two separate development proposals. It was a request that was not well received by the council, with Mayor Jon Graham being among the most outspoken critics.

Graham took special interest in regard to concerns of safety that would be presented by the proposals. In their current state, the proposed plans for Waterford South would not bring amenities also present in Waterford North across Highway 70 and would instead require residents on the southside to cross the highway to make use of the subdivision’s amenities that include a pool.

“For example, you’ve got a 13-year-old kid in the summertime that wants to go swimming,” Graham said. “How is he getting from his house over to the north, to the swimming pool, without crossing (Hwy) 70 which is a dangerous situation? I can’t imagine this council approving this, at this point, as an invitation for a child to be on his bicycle, or on foot, (crossing Hwy 70) during the summer where they are going to want to go to that swimming pool. There needs to be a safe route to that pool, or you need to put all the same amenities on the south side.”

This sentiment was echoed by others on the council, including Councilmember Kenny Cost.

“It’s your subdivision that you are putting together” Cost said. “It’s not our responsibility to come and tell you what to do. It’s your responsibility to make sure you do what is right for our zoning and regulations. You compiled this master plan on the south side where it should have never been put in as part of this master plan.”

Reamer, however, appeared to be surprised by the Council’s opposition, citing that they had approved the plan by voting to rezone the areas south of Hwy 70. However, the council and its legal representation, clarified during the hearing that the rezoning was approved as an independent measure and that the Council had in no way endorsed or approved the current proposed plans for Waterford by doing so.

“I think you need to go back and figure out exactly what works and what’s safe for our citizens,” Graham said. “We’re pro-growth, we want to see houses in this city. We’re on a different move, we’ve updated our subdivision regulations and we’re moving in a direction that this council feels comfortable with and want followed.”

Additionally, other members of the Council also cited pre-existing requirements and restrictions that have been placed on Waterford’s extension in the past. These included a measure limiting future development until the preexisting subdivision is supplied with a previously promised secondary entrance. A secondary entrance that is currently required by the city’s code. As of the time of the hearing, Reamer has not fulfilled this requirement despite previous promises to do so.

Following the public backlash and the Council’s obvious opposition and intent to vote down the proposal, Reamer asked that the proposals be withdrawn, a motion that was approved by the Council unanimously. This now means that any future extension to Waterford North, or the development proposed south of Hwy 70, will have to be resubmitted to the planning and zoning commission before they can again be brought before the Council.

Following the hearing and subsequent motion for withdrawal, business proceed smoothly until the end of the Council session when Councilmember Cost made a motion to adopt the 2023-2024 budget without further discussion. This motion was quickly seconded by councilmember Byers.

This motion was not well received by a number of the other councilmembers who felt that the move was ill-advised.

“I think doing it this way leaves us a little in limbo,” Councilmember Ernest Montgomery said. “We could have at least received a call from you, mayor. I didn’t know the concerns from the councilmembers, like we have always done, to see where our mindsets are before we make our final agreement on this $25 million projected budget proposal.”

Both Turner and Morgan also added to the dissent of the motion, making it clear that they were not in support for how the motion was brought forth and that they had not intended to vote on the budget.

“This is a blindside,” Morgan said. “I don’t know how we got to this point, but it is very distasteful. If you all want to vote for it, you vote for it, but it was done in the wrong way.”

Turner in particular expressed disappointment that her desire to ask further questions in the upcoming and scheduled budget session would not occur.

I can understand if other council members have discussed among themselves and they feel like we have made it that point, but everybody was not brought into that,” Turner said.

Despite the dissent, the seconded motion to pass the 2023-2023 budget for the city of Helena was brought to vote and narrowly passed.

Calera Main Street also presented their reception of state awards at the Alabama Main Street conference in Huntsville. Those awards include the Award of Excellence in Business Promotion for the Married on Main Street contest and the Award of Excellence in Placemaking for the Coca-Cola mural restoration on Main Street. Calera Main Street was also recognized for their reinvestment into the city exceeding $3 million. Jackie Batson, executive director of Calera Main Street, also presented the Hero Award to Anne Davis for her work on fundraising and work with Calera Main Street.

In other news, the Calera City Council also approved and recognized the following:

  • Chief of Police David Hyche’s swearing in of new officer Dylan Wynn.
  • The approval of the 2023 Municipal Leadership Institute conference for Nov. 8-10.
  • A contract renewal for Shelby County Jail Services.
  • A resolution accepting the LSTA Grant Application for the Calera Public Library
  • Construction proposals for downtown parking lots.
  • Adjustments to retiree health insurance.

The next regularly scheduled Calera City Council meeting will take place on Monday, Sept. 18.