A new law office recently opened for business at 1505 Christine Ave., in the midst of a neighborhood zoned for residential use only.
The development of the office was the result of an administrative error at City Hall, according to Councilman Jay Jenkins, who looked into the issue after neighborhood residents contacted him for help on the matter.
Barbara St. Germain, who lives next door to the office with her husband, Claude, said she called the city twice to dispute the work being done in her neighborhood, once after a slab of concrete was poured in the backyard and right before the paving continued in the front.
She said City Planner Toby Bennington told her the property was in a residential office zone rather than the R-2M, or mature residential district, that it is actually in. The R-2M zone includes the properties on both sides of Christine Avenue on the two blocks between 14th and 16th streets.
When contacted about the process that led to the development of the property, Bennington said only that “the city has initiated our due diligence through code enforcement.”
Douglas Mooneyham is the attorney whose limited-liability corporation, known as Lex Domus, bought the property last September. He said this week that the work he’d performed was properly permitted by the city but wouldn’t speak further on the subject.
When work on the property continued, residents contacted Jenkins, who has met with parties on both sides of the issue with no resolution thus far.
Meanwhile, neighbors are frustrated by the lack of progress on the issue.
“I am very disturbed about the looks of the house up there,” said Betty Bowman, who lives two houses up from the new office. “I don’t think it fits in with our historical street,” she added, noting particularly the paved yard and location of the wooden handicapped ramp at the right of the building.
Plans provided by the city show a landscaped buffer of trees along the northern edge of the front yard and a landscaped buffer between the sidewalk and parking area.
Those same drawings show a sidewalk wrapping around the front and southern side of the building to a handicapped-accessible ramp on the southeastern corner of the building.
Instead, the wooden ramp is located at the front of the building. The plans do not show any paving in the back yard.
Mooneyham’s law office lies in the midst of the East Anniston Residential Historic District, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The 1500 block of Christine Avenue, the application reads, “is one of the most original blocks remaining on the street.” A local history of the 1500 block of Christine Avenue, written by Margaret Keelen Newman in 2000, notes that the 1500 block is the only block of Christine Avenue on which all of the buildings are original with no change in usage.
David Schneider, senior director of preservation services for the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, said zoning restrictions, though they can help maintain the residential character of neighborhoods, aren’t great tools for maintaining historic character.
An attempt to designate the broader neighborhood as a local historic district about 10 years ago, said Schneider, fell through. A local district gives the city some oversight over preserving historical character when a national designation is merely honorary.
The erosion of history, Schneider said, is a gradual process.
“One of these days you’ll wake up and everything’s destroyed,” he said. “If it keeps going at the rate of a couple a year, pretty soon, what holds the neighborhood together in terms of character and space … is gone.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.