By Scott Buttram
PINSON –City officials had high hopes for a restaurant on the property on Highway 75 where Rite Aid drug store is located and the parcels next to the former Big 10 tire store back in December of 2012.
By April of 2013, the city was voting to purchase the land and annexing Rite Aid into the city limits. The only restriction on the property was that neither a drug store or a grocery store could locate there. With all the utilities in place for a restaurant, that was the type business city leaders targeted for the spot.
After years of recruiting restaurants to no avail, the city council approved incentives on Thursday for Joe Hudson Collision Center to locate in the former Big 10 building and purchase a portion of the adjoining parcel owned by the city in a lease purchase arrangement.
The portion of land that the body shop wants is the parcel closest to Hwy. 75. The city will retain the rest of the property behind the businesses.
Mayor Hoyt Sanders said he had been negotiating with Joe Hudson Collision to obtain city owned property behind the former Big 10 Tire store. Sanders outlined an incentive plan that would allow the collision center to own the property outright after a lease purchase plan that would forgive the lease payments if the business hits specified sales numbers.
The recommendation passed by a 3-2 vote with councilmen Robbie Roberts and John Churchwell opposed to the plan.
“As a councilperson, the number one request I hear is ‘when are you going to get more restaurants in this town,'” Roberts said. “I have never had anyone say that what this town is lacking is a good body shop.”
Roberts said the reality is that a restaurant will spend between a million and two million dollars to build and the number one thing they consider is location and visibility.
“Because of all this interest, we purchased this property specifically to recruit restaurants,” Roberts said. “It’s in a good location with all the utilities. Is the body shop going to draw a restaurant to this (the remaining) property?”
Roberts said Hudson wants the property for a yard to hide damaged cars.
“Once we put this in, we’ll have to let any body shop in commercial zoning,” Roberts said. “Hudson doesn’t want all the property, just the most valuable piece near the highway.”
Roberts said the citizens are paying for the property twice because the city had already purchased the property and Hudson was essentially purchasing the property with tax dollars if the business hits it’s sales goals.
Sanders interrupted Roberts, asking him to wrap up his comments.
Roberts refused to stop, stating much of the discussion had taken place in executive session and he wanted the public to know what was transpiring.
“The reality is we’re talking about bringing a collision center to one of our best retail locations,” Roberts said.
Roberts proposed that the city work with Joe Hudson to find them a better spot, offer to sell them the full parcel or extend the duration of lease to recoup city money.
Churchwell also had reservation and expressed concern with the pay back plan.
“Business revenue and tax collections are two different things,” Churchwell said. “Joe Hudson pays no tax on labor.”
Churchwell said he thinks potential restaurants will not be interest in locating on the remaining property near the body shop.
“Keep in mind we didn’t recruit this business,” councilman Joe Cochran said. “Joe Hudson wanted to be in Pinson and they are a top notch collision center.”
Cochran said it would be spitting in their eye by suggesting another location.
“We tried and tried and tried to recruit a restaurant.” councilwoman Dawn Tanner said. “We’re not earning anything off an empty building.”
After the incentive packaged passed, Roberts questioned the advertising of public hearing, saying council never voted to hold the public hearing.
Sanders said the hearing was advertised in The Birmingham News as required by law. But Roberts was concerned that the public wasn’t properly notified and previous discussions were in executive session.
Roberts said he had spoken to the attorney for the League of Municipalities and told him that she would not want to defend this action in court.
City attorney Shane Black was out of town and did not attend the meeting, but Sanders said he would check with him on the matter. Following the meeting, Sanders said the council had not voted on public hearings in the past.
Cochran agreed with Roberts that legal advice should be sought to determine if the council was required to vote on a public hearing.
During the public comment time near the end of the meeting, Pinson resident Grant Mitchell said he was opposed to Joe Hudson deal.
“I think it’s a bad mistake to allow an industrial business on that property,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell suggested the city buy the tire store and tear it down to make it more appealing to a restaurant.