During the Sept. 27 commissioner’s meeting, a 4.4-acre property that fell into foreclosure was rezoned from commercial (C-1) with conditions to residential (R-1) for single-family homes.
The property in question had been considered for a small commercial development during March 2008 by the Walker County Planning Commission, which rejected an unrestricted C-1 (commercial) rezoning.
The following month, the developer appealed to commissioner Bebe Heiskell.
Heiskell sent the commercial project back to the planning commission, seeking further details on the plan. The C-1 zoning change occurred the following month upon receiving more detailed plans and a list of agreed-upon conditions related to the design concepts for the building and future stores.
A small grocer or convenient store (possibly a Save-a-Lot) was the proposed “anchor” business in the project, but it never occurred as a result of occupancy and economic challenges. More than 400 people signed a petition in favor of the commercial development in 2008, according to Kimbell.
Her office received only two or three letters opposing it prior to agreement of the conditions, according to Kimbell.
Conditional-use variances were placed on the property to address some public concerns regarding property values, public safety and flooding issues, specifically a 50-foot vegetative buffer and sidewalks connecting to Eagle Landing as requested by the residents. This occurred only months prior to the economic recession that affected property nationwide.
The Gateway Bank-owned parcel had fallen into foreclosure as the commercial development never materialized.
H.L. Bloodworth signed the contract with Gateway Bank, contingent upon receiving a residential rezoning of either R-1 for single family homes or R-2 for residential, which accommodates either single family homes or duplexes, according to paperwork filed with Kimbell’s office.
Ten people, from that community, supported the R-1 rezoning, by show of hands, during the Walker County Planning Commission meeting for the project, according to Kimbell.
“We listened to all of the citizens that were concerned and their biggest concern was about the multi-family (possibility),” Kimbell said. “The planning commission made the motion to recommend R-1 (single-family housing), which is what the citizens said they wanted.”
Bloodworth recently finalized the property transaction for an undisclosed dollar amount.
John Nightingale, a nearby resident, saw the 2012 public notice for the rezoning while in the midst of rebuilding their home, as was the case for numerous neighbors of his in the portion of Flintstone that was ravaged by a tornado in April 2011.
Nightingale and his wife Susan had long envisioned a place for the community to gather, which was first proposed to Heiskell in 2008, as numerous Eagle Landing residents were opposed to the possibilities commercial development, attended the commissioner’s meeting in which the property was rezoned to C-1 with conditions, according to Nightingale.
Nightingale recalls that Heiskell dismissed the idea, during a commissioner’s meeting in 2008, which was attended by several neighbors opposed to the commercial development.
“Her response was ‘Where were you when we were building the sidewalk for the handicapped community’ that lives right up the road,” Nightingale said. “We aren’t asking for a handout. We’re willing to work as a community to raise the money to buy it, if that’s what it takes. It will take us a while, but we’ll do it. ”
At the time of the rezoning, Bloodworth stated he planned to go ahead with the purchase, despite not receiving the rezoning he sought, as a better financial investment than other options he considered.
Slowly progressing toward a park
The idea of having a park or green space to serve as a community center was born out of the sense of community spirit that grew larger during the yearlong road to recovery after the tornado.
Under the blue-and-green-tarped homes, Flintstone neighbors that were moderate acquaintances became a tight-knit group that lent support to each other during exhausting and emotional circumstances that can only experienced during a disaster.
“I think that (the tornado) solidified the (community park), not just in our minds but in all of the people that are for this concept,” Nightingale said. “We want to keep that going.”
Prior to approving the most restrictive R-1 rezoning change, Heiskell stated she would meet with the Nightingales at another time about the community’s desire for a park.
“We did the best we could to protect those citizens,” Kimbell said. “We can’t just say we’re gonna do a park. It’s just not that simple. We had to make a decision and we did not give (Bloodworth) the rezone that (he) requested. We listened to the citizens.”
Half of the recently rebuilt and renovated residences on Eagle Landing Drive are on 15,000-square-foot lots (0.34 acre), which is the minimum lot size that Bloodworth could build on, for a maximum of 12 homes on the 4.4 acre lot, depending on configuration, according to Kimbell.
The Nightingales appreciate the compromise, which prevented the duplexes, or any type of multi-family dwellings.
They are seeking an attorney to set up a non-profit organization specifically for the purpose of building the park, according to John Nightingale.
“We’re not going to give up, whether it is this property or some other place,” Nightingale said. “Ideally we want that place (Bloodworth property), but right now the long pole in the tent is on our side. I was surprised at all of the places Walker County has spent money on in the past few years.”
Suggestions that the couple should have purchased the recently cleared lots within their subdivision were not considered because of the lot size and lack of parking and accessibility issues as the road ends with a cul-de-sac.
The acreage of those lots would only allow for a playground. “We don’t want a swing set and a slide for our kids to play on. I can put that in our backyard,” Nightingale said.
The community members were not financially prepared to purchase the foreclosure property while they rebuilt their tornado-damaged homes.
The Nightingale’s park petition, with 38 Flintstone residents, has since grown to more than 100 signatures in the past few weeks, which now includes financial pledges to the effort.
A bank account in Flintstone is planned, so residents can make contribution to the community concept, which will be refundable if the endeavor doesn’t happen.
The Nightingale’s plan was met with community suggestions for the park to include occasional local musical performances, a farmer’s market or annual community fair.
The Nightingales plan to meet again with Heiskell once the project is further along and concepts have become blueprints.