Birmingham Zoning Committee Gives Thumbs Down to Gas Station Near the Cahaba

Birmingham’s Zoning Advisory Committee (Source: Sam Prickett)

Oct. 17, 2017 — The city of Birmingham’s Zoning Advisory Committee voted Tuesday night not to recommend rezoning a Grants Mill Road property for development of a gas station and convenience store.

Opponents of the plan say the development proposal is just one of many attempts connected to the Birmingham Water Works Board to develop environmentally fragile land around the Cahaba watershed.

The proposal considered by the Zoning Advisory Committee would have transferred the property located at 2981 Grants Mill Road from a Holding Zone District to a C-1 Neighborhood Commercial District. According to Birmingham’s zoning ordinance, the HZD designation is meant to serve as a temporary measure to keep city-owned lands undeveloped “pending development and/or completion of a comprehensive land use plan for the subject area.” A Neighborhood C-1 district would allow smaller retail development – in this case, a small gas station and convenience store.

Though some speakers at the committee meeting claimed otherwise, the land in question is not part of an area that the state attorney general ordered in 2001 to be placed under a conservation easement – meaning it would be permanently protected from development. It does neighbor that area, though.

Developer Simmons Pankey, who purchased the land from the BWWB last year for $25,000, said he was unaware of any conservation easements, pending or otherwise, on the property.

Speaking before the committee, Pankey said he felt he had received “strong support” from the Overton Neighborhood Association for the gas station and convenience store.

“We feel like we can appeal as a family-oriented place, and we feel like it’s needed in the community,” he said. “There’s no other place to get gas. There’s no other place to get groceries.”

Opponents refuted Pankey’s claim, citing development of gas stations as well as grocery stores within 10 miles.


Environmental Risks

But opponents were more vehement regarding environmental concerns, particularly with property so near a tributary to the Cahaba watershed.

Jason Coleman, a fluorine chemist, warned that if a petroleum-based fire started at the gas station, the firefighting foam that would be required to combat it would prove toxic to the ecosystem. “Once it gets into that tributary, it’s going to poison everything,” he warned.

Others warned of the runoff that occurs from gas stations and cited the fragility of endangered species in the Cahaba. The Cahaba River supports 69 rare or endangered species, according to the Cahaba River Society website.

Pollution would also affect the drinking water source for millions of Alabamians, opponents argued.

After the Zoning Advisory Committee voted the measure down, opponents of the proposed development expressed cautious relief. Some, such as activist Bobbie Rhodes, said she had been to City Hall several times in past months to combat proposed development in the Cahaba watershed.

“I’m worried I’m starting to wear out my welcome,” she said with a tired laugh. The debate over a proposed Northeast Framework Plan, for instance, has been continuing since this summer. Rhodes and several other activists who showed up to protest the zoning said they believed that the fight was far from over.

“That’s one down, like, 100 to go,” muttered one activist as he exited the meeting.

Though the Zoning Advisory Committee voted not to recommend the rezoning, the final decision lies with the Birmingham City Council, which will likely take a definitive vote on the measure next month.