Beyond the Knee Jerk: Midtown Zoning

By Sandra Nickel

It’s a battle that seems to range among neighborhood associations all the time: Should a requested re-zoning for non-residential use be given a fair hearing or summarily turned away?

Most recently, the discussion took place in Cloverdale-Idlewild, where a property management company wanted to convert one apartment in a fourplex into their Montgomery office. The “nays” had it at the neighborhood association meeting and the property manager, I’m told, decided not to bring the battle to City Hall without the Association’s support.

A few months prior, the operators of Dreamz Banquet Facility (511 E. Edgemont Ave.) had petitioned to become a regular neighborhood restaurant with normal operating hours and, of course, a liquor license — much like its predecessor, the Sahara, had been. Insiders tell me the CIA vote on that one was very close and that the request for association support for the liquor license request was narrowly defeated.

My own neighborhood, the Garden District, is girding its loins for a discussion regarding a proposed city-developed “master plan” that suggests a considerable amount of the land in the northern area be rezoned Mixed Use and Multi-Family. A number of folks have already made it clear that they will “fight to the death” any effort on the part of anyone to change any Garden District zoning to anything other than simple single family residential.

The outcome may resemble what happened in border states 150+ years ago: friends lining up on both sides of the issue. Families disagreeing among themselves. You get the picture.

All of this has caused me to reflect seriously on the right/wrongness of non-residential zoning in our area. And it has brought me to the awareness that, at least in part, Midtown is an area growing in demand because we are not strictly residential, not in spite of it.

Imagine Old Cloverdale and Cloverdale-Idlewild without the shops, eateries and drinkeries along East Fairview and Cloverdale Road! Heck, we here at Sandra Nickel Hat Team, REALTORS, have come to expect buyer prospects to tell us, “I want to be within walking distance (sometimes crawling distance!) of The Strip.”

The charrettes done for both commercial districts gathered hundreds of public comments. And the theme was pretty consistent: We love the businesses we have in the area and would welcome more like them.

As a little girl, I can remember my mother sending me to our neighborhood “little store” for a loaf of bread or a bottle (yes, glass bottle) of milk. It was a 4 block walk and seen as a real Godsend to our one-car family, whose male breadwinner drove off to work every morning.

Why, then, is there this persistent opposition to having businesses in our midst? I’m told it has to do with the emergence of Euclidian zoning (so named after the City of Euclid in Ohio, where such zoning originated in 1916) calling for different land uses (houses, apartments, businesses, factories, etc.) to be separated. The VA and FHA, monstrous sources of mortgage guarantees in post-WWII America, strongly encouraged new housing development according to Euclidian guidelines. Old habits and attitudes die hard, I guess.

Fast forward to the 21st century here in Montgomery. We see family after family fleeing East Montgomery for neighborhoods like McGehee Estates, Edgewood, Old Cloverdale. Why? Because they are close to downtown jobs and generally within walking distance of places to eat, shop, and recreate.

Bottom line: The next time you’re invited to participate in a zoning debate, do so thoughtfully. And perhaps only after walking to Derk’s, Sinclair’s, Bud’s or another favorite stop.

See you in the neighborhood!

Sandra Nickel has been listing and selling residential real estate for over 29 years, most with an intense focus on Montgomery’s Midtown neighborhoods. Sandra serves on the Mid-Alabama Coalition for the Homeless, the Cloverdale Business Coalition, Historic Southview, the Volunteer and Information Center, Landmarks Foundation and her own neighborhood Garden District Preservation Association.

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5 Comments

Filed under Municipal business, Sandra Nickel

5 responses to “Beyond the Knee Jerk: Midtown Zoning

  1. Didn’t somebody just report last week that most home break-ins happen between 8:00 and 5:00? Having someone in an office in the neighborhood, and the traffic it generates, might just prevent this. And didn’t we all love the now long-departed Lawrence Street Curb market? I love our mixed-use areas, and it could provide a buffer between our residential and the interstate.

    • Elizabeth, you are so right. There is an engineering office right across the corner from our house. They are there M-F, 8-5 (or thereabouts) and we are there nights/weekends. Makes it easy for all of us to look after one another’s properties!

  2. We have lived in and around Cloverdale and Mid-town all our lives. Although we moved out of Cloverdale 10 years ago, we recently moved back into our family home in the Cloverdale-Idlewild section. Since May, our family has enjoyed living in a way that is not available anywhere else in Montgomery. Out East, the kids can hardly walk from Jalapenos to the Rave without extremely dangerous traffic conditions. We can and have walked to Sinclairs, Tomatinos, the Park, concerts, MCC, Huntingdon Football games and even to Filet and Vine a few times. Sandra, I wish you would address how the dilema of mixed use might be solved for our communities.

  3. Alan Dean

    I am one of those neighbors in Cloverdale-Idlewild who opposes expanding the zoning for business in and around our neighborhood. One of the things we love is the very fact you mention about being able to walk to our beloved little shops and bars. But sometimes a ‘little bit’ is a lot better than ‘a lot’ and we are concerned about the possibility of opening the floodgates and ruining the nice, neighborhood shop feel that we currently have. We are concerned that the balance we have between homey neighborhood/friendly community of happy neighbors and small businesses around the corner from our homes, will become busier and the additional traffic becoming intrusive. We are concerned that businesses with no concern for our peaceful surroundings will just ruin something that we treasure. And you need look only a few blocks away to see the proliferation of cash/title and pawn shops that could/would inevitably start popping up on the outskirts of our neighborhood. And we KNOW the clientele of those fine establishments would honor the integrity of our streets and our way of life. We KNOW they wouldn’t be inclined to throw their Taco Bell Bags-Full-O-Trash on our lovely streets as they cut through our neighborhood. The real reason why those from the East are beating a path back to our wonderful neighborhood is ‘We got it right’ and they want it too. We don’t need or want ‘your stinkin’ change’, thank you.

  4. Alan, I agree that we want to preserve the very best of what we have. And I hope that you will attend the “comment sessions” on the master plan for Clovedale Five Points’ business area. They take place August 5 & 6 between 4-7pm in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse, Clovderdale Road at East Fairview.
    We believe the “smart code” application to our area will guarantee an appropriately vibrant mixed use area with both additional businesses and residences. It will be controlled and measured.
    And, frankly, I think the businesses we will gain will be an asset as our demographic is highly desirable.

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