Huntsville's rapid and continued growth means its westernmost boundary is now right up against the city limits of Athens. For about two years, leaders and attorneys from both cities have held a series of discussions regarding property and utility rights as property annexations continued.
Monday night, the Athens City Council approved a two-part resolution that should serve as a new roadmap for growth for both cities moving forward. One part affects the ongoing construction of the new Greenbrier Parkway, while another addresses sewer rights in the area.
When completed, the new Greenbrier Parkway will span from Interstate 565 north to Interstate 65. Officials anticipate it will be a major thoroughfare for employees at the future Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. plant and for supply trucks.
The parkway will intersect with Huntsville-Brownsferry Road, just west of the intersection with Mooresville Road. The four-lane parkway will then continue on to I-65 at exit 347.
Completing the project, most of which is being funded by Huntsville, will require purchasing right-of-way access along Huntsville Browns-Ferry Road, some of which is in the city limits of Athens. Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks explained about a quarter-mile of the parkway will be within Athens. The city also owns property up to 500 feet south of Huntsville-Browns Ferry Road on Dogwood Flats Road.
Huntsville can negotiate with landowners or obtain property, but Huntsville has no authority to condemn property in Athens. One part of the resolution, approved by the council Monday, addresses this issue.
Athens will now have the right to acquire property for the road project either through voluntary purchase or eminent domain at Huntsville's expense. When the parkway is completed, Huntsville will then transfer any portion of the parkway in the city limits of Athens to Athens.
Shane Davis, director of Urban Development for Huntsville, told the Athens council Monday the road is currently in Phase 4, which spans from Old Highway 20 to just south of Limestone Creek. Phase 5 will take the road to just west of Mooresville Road.
Davis said the Greenbrier Parkway project dates back to when Volkswagen considered building an automotive plant in Limestone County. The carmaker ultimately decided to build in Chattanooga.
“You are a big part of what makes this partnership great,” Davis told the council. “Thank you for that partnership.”
Marks thanked Davis and Huntsville's leaders for working together toward an agreement.
“It's been two years of working together through some easy negotiations and some tough ones sometimes,” he said.
Attorney Shane Black, who represents the council, explained the sanitary sewer agreement with Huntsville is a memorandum of understanding that essentially says Huntsville will provide sewer service within its corporate boundaries, and Athens will provide service within its corporate boundaries.
“We will stay out of each other's sewer service area unless one consents to the other,” Black said.
Marks described the sewer agreement as much more than a simple clarification because of a long-standing federal decision that determined Athens' water and sewer rights and those of Limestone County Water & Sewer Authority. A judge's ruling gave both Athens and LCWSA specific guidance on where they would provide water and sewer service.
The memorandum of understanding approved Monday by the council only pertains to sewer rights, however, and doesn't address water rights.
In December 2010, the city of Huntsville bought seven miles of LCWSA's sewer infrastructure for $10.1 million. The purchased sewer pipe runs near Limestone Creek, while a second line runs toward Athens. The lines provide sewer service to the MTMUSA plant and the areas around Newby, Browns Ferry, Greenbrier, Powell and Mooresville roads.
Marks said it's possible both sides may have to revisit the previous legal decision as growth continues.
“The federal lawsuit drew a line in the sand,” Marks said. “It's possible we may have to go back (to the judge) and say, 'We've all hugged each other.'”