Council may nix modular businesses

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 17, 2005

There’s little question that Highway 80 West is a growing area for Demopolis’s commerce and industry. But according to Demopolis City Councilman Jack Cooley, if that growth means commercial businesses operating out of a mobile or modular home, it isn’t welcome.

“I just don’t think it’s good business,” Cooley said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “If you look at business development in a major industrial area, these companies are spending substantial dollars to move into an area. But someone who comes along in a modular building has much less of an investment cost. So they don’t invest as much, and their investment will never increase their property values or the area’s.”

If plans put in motion by the Demopolis City Planning Commission and City Council come to fruition, however, these businesses will be stopped before they get started.

That action will come in the form of an amendment to the Demopolis city zoning ordinance, which will restrict mobile and modular homes to residential use only. The amendment will be drawn up by Gary Cooper, consultant to the Planning Commission and an expert on city zoning issues.

At a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday night, Cooper said that other Alabama communities had encountered the same problem, and that Hoover, in particular, had had some success with their no-commercial-trailers amendment.

“They were having problems with used car lots being run out of modular homes,” he said, “so they wrote an amendment to curtail that sort of thing.”

The consensus at the Planning Commission meeting was for Cooper to do further research into the Hoover statute–to, in Cooley’s words, “validate” its success–and adapt it for Demopolis’s adoption. Once the amendment was drafted, it would be presented first to the Planning Commission and then to the City Council for approval. Judging from Cooley’s remarks and the mood at the Planning Commission meeting (where several city councilmen were present as well), the amendment will not meet much resistance.

This news will not be as bad as some would expect for the few Demopolis businesses already operating out of modular buildings. The most prominent of these is Community Bank, which is currently in the process of consolidating operations into their modular branch on Highway 80 West. But because the amendment will not be applied retroactively, neither the bank nor the other businesses will be required to construct a new building. Any expansion of the structure or alteration of the property would trigger the new amended zoning code, however, and would put the business in violation.

For Cooley, the amendment can’t be put in place fast enough.

“We’re hoping to have it on the books very soon,” he said.

Other issues Cooper addressed during the Tuesday meeting of the Planning Commission are as follows:

* Areas newly annexed into the Demopolis city limits should be initially zoned for basic residential use, according to Cooper. With the exception of already developed areas like the industrial park south of the city, which should be zoned appropriately, Cooper said the residential designation would give the Planning Commission greater input on the development of the city. “Anyone who wants to do something has to have approval,” he told the Commission, “and if a pattern starts to develop in an area, then you can take the initiative and rezone it commercial or industrial.”

* Cooper also outlined a new zoning amendment to account for telecommunications towers, which have become much more prominent over the past few years and are currently under little regulation by Demopolis city code. Amendment specifics will be filled in by the Planning Commission, but will take into account factors such as height restrictions, fencing, “setback” (i.e. how far away from other properties the tower must be in case it fell), usage, and possible “camouflage” to make towers appear to be large trees.