Now, the folks who wrote the law are checking out whether it can be used the way Eugene D. Phillips and the town of Edwardsville applied it.
The law was passed in the late 1990s to allow city or county governments to establish improvement districts to attract businesses to their area. It was backed by a group of eight state senators, including Gerald Dial, who was returned to office Tuesday after a four-year hiatus from the Senate. He has the Legislative Reference Service — a nonpartisan agency that drafts bills and does legal research for the state legislature — checking on the legality of how Edwardsville used the law.
“It’s all to create jobs… it was never intended for a city to go out and take massive amounts of real estate,” Dial said Friday. “I don’t know how these people came up with this weird idea, because it had never been done anywhere in Alabama.”
Phillips approached Edwardsville in 2009 about an option the town held to buy an ownership stake in a land-management company. Because it held the option for a year, the town could act as though it had bought a portion of the company. That allowed Edwardsville to create two special improvement districts on the land company’s property — incidentally annexing a number of land parcels.
A town planning commission was then formed and given control over the development of the land parcels and all unincorporated land within a five-mile radius.
Dial believes the annexation could be the legal sticking point. There are only three ways, he explained, to annex land in Alabama: by legislative act, consent decree and where property is contiguous with the municipal limits.
The Edwardsville Town Planning Commission was dissolved late last month. But to dissolve the improvement districts, the district board of directors has to be present.
That means Phillips and his partners must come back to town.
Town Council members said no meeting will be planned until they discuss it with the town attorney, Chad Lee.
Attempts Friday to reach Lee were unsuccessful.
Rep. Richard Lindsey, who represents the county in the state House, has said in previous interviews that he will move to create safeguards from another town using the law this way. Attempts Friday to reach him, too, were unsuccessful.
The Legislative Reference Service will have completed its research by next March’s legislative session, Dial said.
“We will have all the facts and figures and if there are loopholes we’ll close them,” Dial said.
Star staff writer Jason Bacaj: 256-235-3546.