The city of Argo is working to put its zoning ordinance back together this week after a county judge declared it invalid.
St. Clair County circuit judge Phil Seay ruled last week that Argo’s zoning ordinance was not properly passed and improperly amended in 2008, and therefore “void and without effect with regard to the division, use and regulation of real property within the corporate limits of the City of Argo.” The city council voted to seek a declaratory judgment in Seay’s court at its May 10 regular meeting.
The council was scheduled to discuss the ruling at its regular meeting Monday night, which took place after press time. The city’s planning and zoning board has scheduled a work session for Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
“My understanding is that the council wants the zoning board to start over,” Argo Mayor Paul Jennings said Monday. “We want to make sure that everything done this time is followed to the letter of the law.”
The judge’s ruling stated that the city failed to advertise the ordinance by publishing it; failed to hold a public hearing in advance of its passage; and amended it improperly before passing it.
“The Court finds there was no evidence submitted by the City of Argo of compliance with this section of the Alabama Code,” the ruling states.
Jennings said the ruling may be a net positive for the city.
“Overall, it’s probably a good thing, because we can correct all of these problems,” he said. “My opinion is, go back to the people, just like they did, 4-5 years ago, and ask them what they want. Five years later, there’s probably some things that need to be changed.
“Now we can look back and see things that might have been done wrong; now the board can go back. Several of our board members have gone to zoning classes; they’re going to be a whole lot less likely to make a mistake. Zoning is to protect the people, and we want zoning, but we want it to protect the people.”
Jim Link, chairman of the planning and zoning board, said he hopes the board will hold its first public hearing soon.
“We’ll go over it and make sure everything is where we want it,” he said. “We’ll proceed in setting a public hearing; we would like to present it to the council by the next July council meeting, so they will have the opportunity to have their public hearing and vote on it no later than the next council meeting.
“They should be able – assuming they don’t do anything to drag their feet – they should be able to vote on it by the middle of August.”
The controversy surrounding zoning began in the summer of 2011, when city officials discussed creation of a manufactured home zoning amendment in the 2008 ordinance. After multiple public hearings, the ordinance received unanimous approval from the zoning board, but failed at the council. Jennings and councilman George Howell abstained from the vote; councilmen Herschel Phillips, Bill Rutledge and Bill Leake voted “aye”; and councilman Steve Medori, an outspoken opponent of the amendment, voted “nay.”
Medori said Monday that he is hopeful.
“I’m hopeful that they’ll come up with something that will protect property values, and pave the way for an even better Argo in the future,” Medori said.
Jennings abstained from the vote on the amendment to avoid any potential conflict of interest, since he owns property in the proposed manufactured home district. He said he anticipates a unanimous vote for a re-drawn ordinance.
“This will be like starting over,” he said. “Everybody, the council and mayor, will be able to vote. I feel like, when the zoning board is through, we’ll have a unanimous vote from the mayor and council.
“If there’s any question, everybody needs to go to those meetings. When it comes to the council, I hope it’s something the whole body will want to pass. It will take the majority of the whole, which will be 4 votes, to pass it.”