A public hearing and public appearances accounted for much of the July meeting of the New Albany Board of Aldermen Tuesday this past week.

The public hearing was on a request to rezone 215 Faulkner Way (formerly Highland), which is at the intersection of Madison Street, from R-2 to R-3 but the matter was not settled.

Owner Jean Bufkin had asked for the rezoning so the structure could be converted into three short- or extended-stay units something like a bed and breakfast but without meals being served.

The request was approved by the city planning and zoning board and the public hearing had been set following the 30-day notice period.

When Mayor Tim Kent asked for comments in support of or opposition to the request developer Terry Young said he had several concerns about the change.

Although he said he was in favor of the concept, he raised questions about the condition of the structure, limited setbacks, lack of off-street parking, the proximity of an unimproved street, whether the new zoning would be maintained if the business did not succeed and public safety issues while renovation and construction went on.

Potential investors said the plan was to put $225,000 to $300,000 in the structure and the comment was made that the city had said in the past that if it cost more than 50 percent of the value of a condemned structure to rehabilitate it the city would condemn it regardless. However, city attorney Regan Russell said that he could not find this in any city ordinance, and that it was just a guideline that had been used.

Since Young brought up questions that had not been addressed before, aldermen voted to table the issue which the building inspector did research on these questions.

The first personal appearance was by Steve Hall, who has been maintaining the cemeteries for the city the past 13 years.

He said he had learned through the mayor that the city was advertising for bids to perform the work and asked why he had not been notified. “In 13 years I have never come to ask for an increase,” he said. “Why are you bidding? Have I failed?”

Hall said the New Albany and Glenfield cemeteries comprise slightly more than 23 acres. “There are more than 5,000 people buried and a lot of graves are unmarked,” he said. “There are 150-plus family plots with most of them walled in with no gate. They have to be weed-eated.”

In fact, much of the cemetery cannot be mown and Hall said he also poisons fire ant nests, yellow jackets, fills in sunken graves and removes limbs and trash as part of his job.

He receives $40,000 per year and must provide his own equipment and all supplies.

Ward Four Alderman, who asked that the job be advertised, said he had received complaints about low limbs hitting cars and one part of the cemetery needing to be mowed again before the other part is completed.

“You never contacted me,” Hall said. “When somebody calls I get right on it.”

“If you can find somebody to do it for less they’re welcome to it,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been done dirty.”

Hall left without asking for any action by the board and any bids submitted are scheduled to be opened at the Aug. 6 board meeting.

Another personal appearance was by Mike Waters, engineer with A2H architects.

He was introduced by Union County Development Association Executive Director Phil Nanney.

Waters was there to provide an update on a proposed Munsford Drive overpass project.

The overpass, which was part of the 1997 comprehensive plan for inner and outer loops for the city, would connect Munsford Drive from just north of I-22 to Sam T. Barkley Drive near the North Glenfield intersection.

The original plan was to go over West Bankhead Street and the BNSF Railroad but Waters’ recommendation Tuesday was to keep the overpass elevated over the Rolling Hills area and not back to ground level until approaching Barkley Drive. He said that would leave the subdivision less affected and the area open to more development.

An obvious benefit is that the railroad could no longer potentially block emergency responders going to the elementary school or industrial park. 

“It’s 16 minutes to the elementary school (by Hwy. 15) versus four provided it’s not blocked,” Nanney said.

Also, the Bankhead-Glenfield intersection is narrow and includes a sharp turn difficult for trucks to navigate. The overpass would provide an overall better industrial connector from Hwy. 15 North to Hwy. 30 West and I-22.

Waters said if the railroad gave its permission it likely would want to close one or two of the smaller present crossings but he thought they would leave the Glenfield crossing there.

Funding has always been the stumbling block for the project. Initial estimates years ago were for about $25 million. Today, Waters said, the cost would be more like $23 million to $24 million for the two-lane project.

Waters said he believes the city can qualify for something called a BUILD grant, which could pay for 100 percent of the project, although it is often an 80-20 percent match.

The application deadline is July 15 and the only present requirement for the city is to commit to spend $6,000 if the grant is awarded. Aldermen agreed.

Nanney closed by saying the overpass could pay off in another way. The area is continuing to try to attract more Toyota suppliers and there is land available in the park but “a Toyota tier-one supplier won’t cross a railroad.”

A third personal appearance by was representatives of Aflac Insurance who want to be able to offer their coverage to city employees.

Aldermen said they may as long as the city’s insurance broker agrees and it does not harm the city’s local agent. They agreed that would be the case.

In department business, the light, gas and water department got approval to pay $122,551 in engineering fees for the new water treatment facility project and two cash requests totaling $138,596.40. The projects are largely being financed by grants.

LG&W manager Bill Mattox also got permission to purchase one three-quarter ton and one half-ton truck for the gas department. The purchases will be at state contract prices.

Phil Nanney also spoke on behalf of the civic center commission, asking about the unsettle question concerning repairs to the sprinkler system and also the need to purchase new curtains for the stage.

Mayor Kent said building inspector Eric Thomas had learned that the labor cost for sprinkler repairs could be reduced greatly and Fire Chief Steve Coker said he was getting more more feasible quotes as well.

Since it appears the civic center budget may have enough to pay for both the curtains and repairs, aldermen voted for Nanney to go ahead and order new curtains on condition that they not be installed until sprinkler repairs are complete.

Fire Chief Coker had mentioned at the previous meeting that his department had a vacancy and he was looking at a pool of potential firefighters. Tuesday he recommended that Taylor Lyons be hired and aldermen approved.

Building inspector Eric Thomas reported that the planning and zoning board did note meet due to lack of a quorum.

The claims docket, which is usually routinely approved, once again met a roadblock.

With the absence of Ward One Alderwoman Amy Livingston, only four board members were present and the vote was two to two for and against approving the docket.

The mayor was asked to vote to break the tie but the attorney said he was not required to vote.

At issue was the crape myrtle, water system and other material at the cemetery so aldermen unofficially agreed to vote to accept everything on the docket except that and consider it at the next meeting.

However, attorney Russell clarified that if the mayor did not vote it would count as a nay vote so he decided to vote yea to settle the matter.

The tree issue and other matters have resulted in split votes on the claims docket at the past couple of meetings.

Finally, Alderman-at-Large Keith Conlee reported that he had met with the Corps of Engineers and they had said the city may clean up the banks of the Tallahatchie River as long as the soil is not disturbed. This apparently would permit brush cutters but nothing heavier.

Conlee said the plan is for city employees to start by clearing the river bank from the railroad to beside the park stage, only as time permits. He said volunteer help could be used as well.

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