The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

November 22, 2012

Businessman concerned by proposed development project

By Adam Smith

— Athens developer Bill Ming wants to build a new shopping center on U.S. 72 west, but not everyone is keen on the idea.

The Athens Planning Commission discussed a site plan for the proposed Athens Shoppes strip development at Tuesday’s meeting, but Jeff Hamm, owner of the Champion Chevrolet and Chrysler dealerships, opposed the plan. Ming’s project would be located at the site of the former Clayton Homes business, just east of Hamm’s business.

Hamm told commission members the success of his businesses is dependent on visibility from U.S. 72, and that Ming’s project — which would be developed on an elevated plat — would block line of sight to his dealerships.

“This will impair me locally as a businessman; it’s going to hurt my revenues,” he told the board. “That’s why I’m located on Highway 72; to get the best visibility.”

Hamm’s comments were received during a public hearing on the preliminary and final approval of French Hills Plaza, which is where Ming’s development will be located. Property owners John Hector French III and Donna Ann French requested the creation of the minor subdivision, located at the northwest corner of U.S. 72 and John Hector Drive. The property is zoned B-2, or general business district.

Hamm sought to delay passage of the commission’s resolution on the grounds the city had not met its public notice requirements. Hamm and his brothers own three pieces of property adjacent to the proposed site of Athens Shoppes, but only two pieces border the French’s property.

Though all three properties are deeded differently, Hamm co-owns one of the properties that adjoins the French property and did receive a meeting notice from the city. French said he had also spoken to Hamm “two or three months ago” about Ming’s plans to develop the property.

“(Hamm) expressed no concern,” French said.

Ming’s proposed project will be a 32,000-square-foot mixed-use development combining retail businesses and restaurants. He said it would be similar to the French Farms development behind Zaxby’s in both “quality of tenants and exterior.”

The development would be accompanied by a large privacy fence and landscaping to the west to block traffic from entering a private drive owned by the French’s. Hamm argued the fence would block the line of site to his dealerships, but Ming acquiesced and agreed to stop the fence even with the front of the building. The commission agreed to a proposal to instead install shrubbery and curbing from where the fence stops to the edge of the right-of-way off U.S. 72.

Hamm also asked if the height of Ming’s building could be level with his building.

“That’s not on the table, Jeff,” Ming said.

Hamm said he approached City Planner Mac Martin about the site plans, but Martin said it is his department’s policy to not release plans that have not been approved by the Planning Commission.

“It’s not good for a local Athens business,” Hamm said. “(The project) should accommodate both needs.”

In other business, the Planning Commission:

• Held a public hearing and granted preliminary and final approval for French Hills addition No. 5, a minor subdivision located on the west side of Athens-Limestone Drive approximately 300 feet north of U.S. 72. The request was made by Almond & Associates LLC;

• Held a public hearing and granted a request from the Health Care Authority of Athens and Limestone County to resubdivide Lot 2A of a resubdivision of lots 2 and 3 of the Athens-Limestone Medical Village. The property is zoned B-2, or general business district;

• Held a public hearing and granted a request for Jack L. Stone and Sarah Stone to subdivide property located at Lot 65 of Houston Place Subvidision and then consolidate Lot 39 and part of Lot 65. The property is in an R-1 or single-family residential district.

• Held a public hearing and granted a request of Betty Sue Christopher to annex property located at 17893 Market Street W., and rezone the property as R-1-2; and

• Held a public hearing and recommended the city amend section 6.4 of the zoning ordinance to allow mini-warehouse storage facilities and government buildings in an AG, or agricultural district.