Jefferson County Commission

Jefferson County Substantially Increases Penalty for Violating Zoning Laws

Jefferson County County Attorney Theo Lawson looks in law book. 10-10-2023. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

The Jefferson County Commission on Thursday amended its zoning ordinance to increase the penalty for violations.

As a result of recent state legislation, the commission was able to make violating the county’s zoning ordinance a Class B misdemeanor. Such violations are now punishable by as much as 180 days in jail and a fine of as much as $3,000.

Previously, the penalty was a $100 fine and no more than 10 days in jail.

The County Attorney’s Office will also assume responsibility for prosecuting violations from the Development Services Office.

“The state law gives you the authority to implement,” County Attorney Theo Lawson said after the commission’s committee meeting this week. “Then … we had to revise the zoning ordinances and resolutions, which still had the 10-day (jail time), $100 fine. That had to go through planning and zoning and go to the commission for final approval.

“That previous fine and punishment had not been changed since way back when,” Lawson said. “What this does is this will keep this current. Every time there’s an amendment to a Class B misdemeanor, it will be current with what the going rate is for a Class B misdemeanor.”

Persons operating bingo operations – which are illegal in unincorporated Jefferson County – and those who are illegally dumping would be subject to this ordinance.

“It increases the penalties for those operations that are illegally operating from a zoning violation perspective,” the county attorney said. “Any of the criminal stuff, or (operating) without a license stuff, is still there as well. It’s not any illegal operation, but it’s operating outside of zone will be subject to the increased penalty rather than the old $100 fine.”

Previously, some might have paid the lesser penalties and then resumed operation.

“Not might,” Lawson said. “Did.”

More Business

During Thursday’s meeting, the commission honored Sarah Collins Rudolph as a survivor of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing 60 years ago.

Also, commissioners heard from Dr. David Hicks, who was appointed to succeed recently retired Dr. Mark Wilson as county health officer.

The meeting concluded with a public hearing concerning the sewer rate resolution. The hearing was seen as a formality as the county moves toward refinancing its sewer debt, but some residents spoke about their concerns and issues with their sewer rates.

Lashunda Scales said those questions needed to be answered even though they were unrelated to the resolution that was brought before the commission.

“(Those questions) still represented valid concerns that a lot of constituents have as relates to the water increase, sewer increase, the cost of doing business with the county and the (Birmingham) Water Works,” Scales said. “I wanted to make certain that as much as possible for the county to be able to address its own constituents and to make sure that, out of transparency, those questions that they have that many share need to be addressed from an official county representative. That’s very important to me and to my constituents.”