By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Ten residential lots, including seven homes, on Lakeshore Drive between Samford University and Odum Lane have been rezoned as institutional property. Samford owned the land and requested the rezoning as a part of their master plan for the campus to build more dorms and parking.
Council members and residents remain divided on whether this outcome is best for the surrounding neighborhood, but regardless of opinion, the final decision was a compromise between Samford and Homewood.
“Not one single person was 100 percent satisfied,” Council President Allyn Holladay said. “That testifies to how much of a compromise it was.”
Many residents were in opposition to the rezoning because they feared it would hurt the surrounding neighborhood and property values; they also complained that Samford was not forthcoming about their plans. On July 7, about 50 Homewood residents gathered for a meeting in opposition to the rezoning request.
Representatives from Samford, Sarah Latham and Buck Brock, spent three to four weeks in dialogue with neighbors to listen to their concerns and work on a compromise.
“We tried to learn from what we heard back and spent a lot of time on phone calls and over email listening to neighbors and the city council to form our plan and the covenant,” Latham said.
“It was a really hard process,” council member Jackie Langlow said, “but it was so much more enjoyable because people were really trying to work together.”
“The fact that the neighborhood was concerned opened dialogue with Samford that created a better relationship than we’d had in years and made sure the neighborhood would feel comfortable with additional proffers,” Holladay said.
On July 25 the Homewood City Council voted 5-3 in favor of the rezoning request. David Hooks and Hunter Payne, who represent Wards 4 where the affected neighborhoods are located, as well as Walter Jones, voted against it.
About three-fourths of the approximately 100 people who attended the meeting walked out of the council chambers after the vote.
Three council members were not in attendance for the vote. President Allyn Holladay was unable to be there due to a death in the family but had a statement read in support of the rezoning.
Along with granting the rezoning, Samford agreed to a set of proffers with the city that will be made into a covenant. These include a seven-year moratorium on Samford’s petitioning the city for additional rezoning in this area and that Samford will not seek to open a north entrance on campus for seven years.
Samford also agreed to reduce the number of undergraduates living in off-campus houses, and Latham will serve as a liaison between Samford and the neighborhoods. Latham is currently working on a survey for 300 neighbors and plans to have coffee with neighbors in the area.
“It turned out to be a vote for neighborhood preservation because it set the parameters for better relationships in the future,” Langlow said.
Some residents feared that the rezoning would set a precedent for more rezoning of property that would hurt neighborhoods, especially because Samford owns more lots north and west of its campus already.
To the contrary, Holladay said that a rezone is unique to confines of its immediate situation and that this decision did not necessarily set a precedent.
Council members in favor of the rezoning argued that it was the best use for the property. Most property on Lakeshore is institutional and business property already, and the lots were contiguous with Samford’s current campus property.
“In many ways, it was part of the Homewood master plan that talks about reducing driveways on major thoroughfares like Lakeshore,” Moody said.
Langlow walked the property under consideration many times during the discussions and pointed out that the new dorms and parking will create more of a buffer between the campus and the neighborhood than exists now on Currie Way. The new dorms will be set 70 feet from the property line, and an 18-foot-high, 15-foot-deep buffer between the properties will be put in place.
In addition, four of the seven houses on the rezoning property have been bought, and the developer hopes to move them elsewhere in Homewood.
Council member Payne remains opposed to the rezoning, arguing that neighborhoods are the cornerstone of Homewood and should be preserved. He said that the proffers are a cop-out. Payne also stated that because of the rezoning, Homewood will not receive revenue from property taxes on those 10 properties. He believes Samford has a vision to grow all the way to Green Springs.
“I think Samford is a wonderful institution and that they are an ambassador to our city,” he said. “I just don’t feel like they should continue to buy property in Homewood.”
Regardless, the neighborhood preservation discussion is not over. The Campaign for the Preservation of Homewood’s Family Neighborhoods is holding an organizational meeting in room 116 of the Homewood Library on September 12 at 6 p.m. Their goal is to ensure the 2012 election of representatives from each ward in Homewood to the Homewood City Council who are committed to preserving Homewood’s family neighborhoods.
Holladay said that her discomfort regarding the rezoning initially resulted from not knowing Samford’s intent for the property before the rezoning request came to city council. After the dialogue with Samford over this issue, she hopes that there will not be any more surprises.
“This particular issue awakened Samford to the fact that they cannot be in a silo by themselves,” Holladay said. “In order to move forward, that silo has to open up to include the neighbors and the city in their long-term plans.”
Council members will continue to discern how to best serve the needs of its citizens, and according to Holladay, Samford is just as much of a citizen as everyone else.
“A lot of people are still very upset and bitter about the decision,” council member Vance Moody said, “but I hope that that mindset does not win the day. I believe Samford is honest and forthright about their desire to dialogue with the neighborhood and be good neighbors.”
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