The St. Clair Times

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October 21, 2014

Letter: Restrictive ordinances in Springville have inhibited development

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 2:52 pm, Wed Jun 11, 2014.

To Readers of the Times:

Many of you have visited MacDonald Farm and seen its lake, tennis courts, clubhouse, walking trails and pool. Some of you have attended meetings over the years at the clubhouse initiated by the mayor or a council member, and heard them say the subdivision is the "finest" in the city. 

A few may know that when MacDonald Farm was first developed, the city assured us (the developer) the city’s water pressure was sufficient to serve the project, which turned out to be incorrect yet we rolled up our sleeves with the mayor at the time and solved the problem with a public-private effort, resulting in the construction of a new water tank on the project. For years since, citizens over a broad area receive their water from the water tank at MacDonald Farm. 

The city escaped responsibility for misleading information, and gained a new water tank at half the cost to boot. When a drought occurred, they called on us, and we responded with improvements to the lake costing over $200,000, without legal obligation to do so.

Years ago, we submitted plans for a new phase in MacDonald Farm. Construction would have included repairing these very roads. To our shock, our engineers told us the city had passed a subdivision ordinance that hiked up the level of roads in Springville to near-interstate proportions.

They backed their position with a comprehensive study proving that Springville’s subdivision ordinance is far more restrictive than in any city in the state, including Mountain Brook. The ordinance drives up construction costs beyond what we can sell lots for. We have sent the study to the city, which has taken no issue with it.

We shared these conclusions with the city, and they told us that we should try for a variance. As we told them, however, the ordinance contains a built-in roadblock to a variance request, in the form of geotechnical reports in the proposed path of the road. 

In a nutshell, before we can request a variance, to allow us to build a "normal" road up the mountain, and not an interstate highway, we would have to build a "temporary" road up the mountain to enable heavy, truck-drawn drilling rigs to conduct the tests, resulting in killing trees, disturbing fragile soils and thus creating a golden opportunity for erosion. That would lead to ADEM violations unless we go to further expenses with grassing, hay bales and the like.

We called the illogic of that obstacle to the attention of the city: to conduct testing beforehand even knowing the city would grant us the variance, we could go to all that expense, create a field day for four-wheelers (which ruin grassing in soft soil and create erosion), and yet the city might say, "No thank you."

Since then, the mayor and council have met with homeowners over the issue, but not with us. Our engineer sent a letter to the city recently, saying he had not been able to discuss the problem with the city, despite numerous efforts. Instead of working with us, the city cited us for violation of a weed ordinance, but would not meet with us on the site to explain which "weeds" they were concerned about.

Benjamin Disraeli once said all wars are fought only because diplomats have failed. We have managed to solve all the problems facing MacDonald Farm amicably with the city in the past, and have kept the faith that one day reason will prevail to help us solve the present problems.

If the city wishes to air this matter on the pages of this newspaper, however, and in forums to which we are excluded, to discuss litigation strategy against us, so be it. At least litigation will enable us to roll up our sleeves and discuss this matter with the city, even though in depositions with a court reporter present. The city’s law firm will be the winner, able to bill the city the same amount no matter the outcome of the case.

Solving the problem at MacDonald Farm, therefore, must start with understanding the problem. The problem is government.

While our problems at MacDonald Farm may appear minor, they mirror a broader truth: freedom under our laws is not limited to freedom of speech, but includes economic freedom. When that freedom is eroded, you see decline like you are seeing in Springville, vacancies downtown and in the Wal-mart center as well as potholes in our project. You will usually see growth in areas where developers can compete on an even playing field such as east of I-59, growth, which could have been Springville’s, but for the same road ordinances that have crippled MacDonald Farm.

 

Guy V. Martin, Jr., Managing Member, MacDonald Farm, LLC

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