Neighbors oppose plans for Old Moulton Road apartment complex

·10 min read

Sep. 23—A developer is considering buying 31.59 acres on Old Moulton Road Southwest for a 201-unit apartment complex, and neighboring residents aren't happy about the prospect.

Residents of this Southwest Decatur neighborhood near Austin High School filled the Council Chambers at City Hall this week to oppose the development. They cited concerns with flooding and traffic while also saying they just don't want an apartment complex near them.

However, the Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend rezoning the property for owner Habitat for Humanity of Morgan County to R-4, multi-family homes, after Chairman Kent Lawrence said residents' concerns aren't a zoning issue. The property is currently zoned AG, agriculture, and R-6, single-family attached homes. Habitat is trying to sell the land to a developer.

"Developers want to know what they can do and, if it's R-4, there are other processes to deal with like a site plan and the preliminary plat," Lawrence said. "The developer will have to pay to mitigate any problem. It's also possible they don't ever build, but they want to know what they can do if they buy the property."

The property is west of Shady Grove Lane Southwest, with its southern border even with Bunny Lane. It is bordered to the north by Old Moulton Road.

Lawrence said the city's Engineering and Building departments will make sure the developer follows city requirements, including making sure that any drainage issues don't impact neighboring properties.

The Planning Commission's recommendation will go to the City Council for a final decision.

City Planner Lee Terry said Habitat requested the rezoning of its Old Moulton Road property because it's under contract with RealtyLink LLC, of Vestavia Hills. RealtyLink plans to buy the land and build an apartment complex.

Landis Griffin, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Morgan County, said they're selling the land because they can't afford to develop new properties right now. She said the cost of construction has increased recently from $84,000 to $115,000 per home.

"The cost of construction rose so high that it was just out of reach to develop the Old Moulton Road property," Griffin said. "And one of our issues with the property is there's no sewer available on that side of the road."

Griffin said these costs increased the price of the homes to the point that their clients couldn't afford to purchase them. Instead of developing a new area, she said, her nonprofit is going to focus on completing its development near Tammy Street Southwest. There are five vacant lots remaining in the 23-lot subdivision.

"We're going to just slow down our building and find more resources for the current neighborhood," Griffin said.

Terry said the developer is planning to build the "low-density" apartment complex on Old Moulton Road in three phases, starting with 118 units and 243 parking spaces in phase 1. The second phase would have 52 units, and phase 3 would complete the development with 31 units.

Terry said the developer's plan for 201 units on 31.59 acres computes to 6.28 units per acre, and any development under eight units per acre is considered low density. In contrast, the Villarreal apartment complex planned for Upper River Road is 200 units on 14.5 acres.

"This (RealtyLink plan) is not like anything we're used to seeing in apartment developments," Terry said. "This is very, very low density."

Much of the acreage is characterized as a wetland by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Old Moulton Road resident Cecil Pounders said he's lived on his property, which is adjacent to the Habitat property, for 45 years.

He said Old Moulton Road is higher in this area because of flooding on the Habitat property.

"Back in 2016, we had a flood in this area and there was 3 feet of water standing on this property," Pounders said.

The property is also adjacent to an old quarry, and blasting would be necessary if the developer wants to add septic tanks because there will be large pieces of limestone in the property, Pounders said.

He said there is a well and a (plant) nursery across from the property and he's concerned that the development could cause changes in the water table and impact septic tanks in the area.

"I can't think of a worse place that you could put 200 apartments," Pounders said. "It's the lowest piece of property in town."

Shady Grove Lane resident Lance Warren said his property is on the south side of the Habitat property and he agrees with Pounders' assessment that the Habitat land is too wet for development. He said he had ducks on his property after the 2016 flood because the Habitat "property was under water for four months."

"It's the sorriest, absolutely worst piece of property you could have picked out," Warren said.

Lawrence responded that the city and the Planning Commission don't choose where developers want to build.

"The developers pick out the property and come to us," Lawrence said. "We're deciding whether we will rezone that land to what they're requesting. We didn't pick it out. We didn't say, 'Come build apartments here.' They came to us and said, 'We want to build apartments here.'"

Shady Grove resident Doug Eonzy said he understands that the water table isn't the Planning Commission's concern, but he agreed a development will affect septic tanks and wells.

"If somebody is going to build some there, they are going to have to build it up," Eonzy said. "But, when it's built up, it's going to move the water somewhere else."

Terry said the Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn't identified any of this property as a flood zone.

Griffin also said she's not aware of any flooding issues on the Habitat property. — Traffic

Several neighboring residents said traffic is becoming an issue in the area. Terry said a traffic count done in 2021 showed 3,600 vehicles a day on Old Moulton Road.

Using Institute of Transportation Engineers data, Terry said each unit would generate 6.65 vehicle trips per day. With 201 units, therefore, the new apartment complex would create 1,336 trips on Old Moulton Road per day.

"Old Moulton Road is an arterial road that can handle about 18,000 per day," Terry said.

Planning Commission member Myrna Burroughs said traffic is not an issue in Decatur like it is in larger cities. She also pointed out the new development's entrance/exit is at Old Moulton Road and there's not an entrance into the neighboring subdivisions.

"We spend too much time worrying about traffic when it's much worse in a big city," Burroughs said.

Eonzy said the 2021 traffic count doesn't take into consideration the addition of other development in the area, including the city's plan to build a new softball complex between Modaus Road and Bunny Lane.

"I already have to pick and choose my time to go to Old Moulton Road," Eonzy said. "During school let out, the traffic really backs up."

Eonzy said the development is going to "stress" the area when it comes to traffic, so the city needs to do long-term planning on the impact of the additional traffic on Old Moulton Road, Shady Grove Lane and Bunny Lane.

Shady Grove resident Misty Sappington said the city is not doing a good job of upgrading the infrastructure as development occurs in her neighborhood. She added that there are also new subdivisions planned for Modaus Road Southwest.

"The growth of houses, the new softball complex are great. I don't want to stop the growth," Sappington said. "But you can't keep shoving houses on a two-lane road with a (Class) 7A high school. It's not fair to the citizens who live there."

Sappington said she's concerned about the high school students, especially her 16-year-old son, who drive to school on Old Moulton Road.

"They drag race all of the time up and down Shady Grove Lane," Sappington said. "They pass each other on two-lane roads. It scares me to death that my 16-year-old son is on these two-lane roads. I just don't think we can keep adding properties until we at least widen Modaus Road."

Old Moulton Road resident Gene Dickinson said the property also has Tennessee Valley Authority high voltage lines running through it and every apartment will be adjacent to the TVA right of way.

Warren just isn't happy that the development is proposed next to his property, which was mostly rural 17 years when he moved there.

"And what have you done, you came down here and built a $50 million school right in front of my house," Warren said.

Warren said he lives on his "dream property" and he thought he could wait for the "coroner to remove me from this home when I die, but, if all of this is allowed to transpire, I will leave." — Young professionals

Realtor Jamie Reeves said Decatur needs this growth and she is confident the city will put in place the necessary infrastructure. She pointed out that young professionals are having a hard time finding available apartments to rent.

"We need to encourage growth with more multi-family developments," Reeves said.

Sherman Street Southeast resident Cheyenne Sanchez is involved in the local young professionals group. She said her friends in the group don't want to buy a home right now and they're having trouble finding available apartments in Decatur.

"They're looking for rental properties and they don't like Madison or Huntsville," Sanchez said. "They want to live in Decatur."

In other business, the Planning Commission:

—Approved the subdivision of 2.37 acres into parcels of 0.81 of an acre and 1.56 acres at 1403 Beltline Road S.W. for OLP Wash Partners LLC, which Terry said plans to build a car wash.

—Approved the master development plan for Kenzie Meadows that Huntsville LD LLC is planning for 4101 Central Ave. S.W. The planned development is for 261 homes in a combination of single-family residences and town houses.

The City Council recently approved rezoning 34.75 acres at Central Avenue and Poole Valley Road Southwest from agriculture to PRD-7, planned residential development, for Jeff Parker and Greystone Properties. Huntsville LD is now looking to purchase the property for the subdivision development.

—Voted to recommend setting the zoning of 1.3 acres at 4318 Central Ave. S.E. to R-1, single-family residential. The property recently annexed into the city and did not have a zoning district.

—Voted to recommend rezoning 14.51 acres at 2845 Modaus Road S.W. from AG-1, agriculture, to R-5, single-family patio home. The property is part of the Quinn Oaks Farms subdivision that's planned for 80.86 acres.

—Voted to recommend rezoning 3.97 acres on 502 Clark St. S.W. for Roger Glaze from R-2, single-family residential, to R-6, single-family attached town homes.

—Voted not to recommend rezoning 0.25 of an acre from M-C, medical center, to B-1, local shopping district.

Lawrence said this "is almost spot zoning." A hair salon is the intended use for the property, and he said this is not allowed in medical center zoning.

Terry said the applicant, INW Inc., would be better off seeking a variance through the city's Board of Zoning Adjustments or waiting for the new zoning ordinance because it will likely allow a hair salon in a medical center district.

—Voted not to recommend rezoning 5.21 acres on 1000 14th Ave. S.W. from R-2 to R-4 for James Bolan.

bayne.hughes@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2432. Twitter @DD_BayneHughes.