Commission gets earful on special events district expansion; amendment heads to city council

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Downtown Merchants’ Association advisor Ron Pierce defends the expansion of the downtown special events district. The expansion will now go before the Cullman City Council. / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN – During its regular meeting Monday evening, the Cullman City Planning Commission held a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the city ordinance that created the downtown special events district. The amendment, which would allow for open-container alcohol consumption during special city events, now heads to the Cullman City Council.

The amendment expands the boundaries of the district as follows:

  • SOUTH – north side of Fifth Street Southeast
  • WEST – east property line of the CSX railroad, from Fifth Street Southeast to parking and facilities housing the Cullman Police Department
  • EAST – west side of Second Avenue, from Fifth Street Southeast to parking and facilities housing the Cullman Police Department
  • NORTH – the Cullman Police Dept. and its parking lot

Randy Britt, of the Cullman Association of Realtors, spoke in favor of the amendment and added a recommendation of his own, “We need to further the ability of businesses in Cullman to make available their goods and services.  I understand, from what I read in the paper, that it would be under the firm control of the council.  I’d also ask you to consider a skateboard park…Everything comes into play to make Cullman better for all of us.

“It’s in the center of the county.  You can’t get to Cullman without going through Hanceville, Holly Pond, Vinemont, Good Hope, West Point.  So I would ask you to consider it, with controls, as always.”

Next came Ron Pierce of the Downtown Merchants’ Association to promote the change, “I think it’s very important for our city to have special events that run from Festhalle all the way down to Busy Bee, and I could never say enough about that.  You know, we’ve got a few empty buildings there; we need to show a lot of activity in one of those blocks down there.  And all of this adds up to make–I mean Cullman’s a wonderful place; people love to come here for special events, and in my opinion it all needs to be covered under the ordinance that y’all are working.”

When the floor was opened to anyone opposing the expansion, Joe Wilhite came to the podium and immediately laid into the commission for considering the measure, “You know, as I walked in here today, I was shocked.  I was coming in, expecting the generation we raised to be in here running this; but I look around and there’s a bunch of grayheads that should know better.  Five, seven, 10 years ago, I would’ve bragged on Cullman, that’s my home.”

Commission Chairman Mike Voss cut off the attack to ask for the specific reasons why Wilhite opposed the ordinance.

Wilhite responded, “Look what you’re doing to our kids, putting a skate park down here by the entertainment district.”

Voss again stopped Wilhite to ask if his opposition was based on what the special events district could do to children.  Wilhite agreed, then continued, “Somebody is trying to turn us into a party town.  You see where our park is- destroyed, because somebody was making millions of dollars.  But yet, what about our kids?  They don’t have no place to play.  We had a ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington, we had a ‘drain the swamp’ in Montgomery, and I think Cullman needs to have a ‘drain the swamp.’  I think there’s new people that needs to be running our town.”

Voss again asked if Wilhite had a specific point to make about the ordinance.  When Wilhite responded by asking how many churches would be located around the district, Voss ended the discussion.

In the end and after a detailed explanation of how open alcohol containers would only be permitted in the district within the time limits of special events approved by the city council, the commission simply agreed to send an official report to the council indicating that the hearing had been held, with two speaking for and one against out of three total who came to speak.

Other business

The commission approved several site plans and other items, as follows from the agenda:

  • Short-form subdivision – 1001 Fifth Ave. SE and 1005 Fifth Ave. SE – move lot line to allow more parking on one of the lots
  • Short-form subdivision – Hays Properties – Hays Drive Northwest and Northcrest Drive Northwest – allows development of multiple properties on the site
  • Preliminary site plan – Johnny’s Bar-B-Q – SE corner of Denson Avenue and Third Street Southwest – to create more parking for the restaurant, and ultimately allow the restaurant facility to expand.  The passed motion sends the plan on to the city council with a favorable recommendation.
  • Revised site plan – Chambers Farm & Garden Supply – McNabb Road Southwest and Fourth Street Southwest (Hwy. 278) – to place on the record a parking lot exit already installed by the Department of Transportation during its work on Hwy. 278
  • Proposed site plan – 412 Second Ave. SE – to allow development of a building that will require two businesses and a church to share a single dumpster.  The motion was passed contingent upon city council approval and the submission of signed documentation showing agreement among all three entities involved.
  • Conditional use request – 412 Second Ave. SE – request to add a loft apartment to a business property
  • Vacate Property – Street right of way at Hays Drive Northwest and Northcrest Drive Northwest – to allow removal of a cul de sac, and construction of a through street on property being developed
  • Annexation – 198 County Road 1334
  • Annexation – 91 County Road 1401
  • Annexation – 2139 County Road 1338

All three annexations were approved with conditions.  Two of the properties have limited access for garbage and fire trucks due to narrow roads; their owners were to be informed that fire and garbage service would not be available.  The third is located an extended distance from downtown Cullman and could be annexed mainly by its connection to a city-owned portion of Lake George.  The owners of that property must still receive water, garbage and certain other services from the County.

The Cullman City Planning Commission usually meets on the first Monday of each month, at 5:30 p.m. in the Cullman City Hall auditorium.  The public is invited to attend.

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