During the Committee of the Whole before Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the Council discussed renewing or revising the local state of emergency. Mayor Ron Anders was recommended by both Auburn University and East Alabama Medical Center to renew the current order. The current order primarily focuses on restrictions to bars.
“We’ve made it this long,” Anders said. “There have been a number of sacrifices made and I appreciate those who were willing to make those sacrifices, but I’m asking the Council to extend the order three more weeks to Oct. 7.”
Ward 7 Council member Jay Hovey stated he would not support an extension of the order. He believes the restrictions push patrons to other parts of the City and do not stop large gatherings from happening.
“We cannot legislate morality and we cannot legislate common sense, but we can legislate someone out of business,” Hovey said.
Cases at the University are still trending up, said City Manager Jim Buston. However, the number of new cases per week is lower than expected. There are currently 26 hospitalized COVID patients at EAMC, with seven on ventilators.
Lee County is still considered a ‘hot spot’ for the virus in the state, Buston said. The County recently was lowered from ‘epidemic’ to ‘high risk.’ Most counties in Alabama are currently considered high risk.
The City has issued 14 citations based on local and statewide health orders so far, with five going to businesses and nine to individuals at a house party.
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Ward 3 Council member Beth Witten proposed that the extension last until Oct. 2, the same day Gov. Ivey’s Safer at Home Order expires, instead of Oct. 7. Anders recently spoke with the Governor’s Chief of Staff and he would not be surprised if restrictions are extended past Oct. 2, though he does not expect for all of the current restrictions to be extended.
The Council did not pass the proposed amendment in a 5-4 vote. Ward 8 Council member Tommy Dawson, Hovey, Witten and Anders voted yes.
The Alcoholic Beverage Commission is asking for businesses to sign a promise to follow the statewide health order’s guidelines, Witten said. If local businesses sign on to the promise, they would be able to police themselves so the City would not have to police guidelines for them.
“[There are] legitimate concerns and health issues,” Hovey said. “With nine citations to a house party, it proves that we have to police this all over and not just downtown. I’d hate for someone’s livelihood, which depends on a normal course of business, be completely shut down by actions we take.”
The Council approved the extension of the local State of Emergency in a 6–3 vote. Dawson, Hovey and Ward 4 Council member Brett Smith opposed. Witten stated she was extremely conflicted, but she voted yes.
Among the monthly service awards, Anders announced the retirement of officer Michael Roberson, and Dawson commended him for being someone the community and its schoolchildren could look up to.
The Council unanimously approved tax abatements for two new industries moving into Auburn. Anders commended the City’s economic development team for bringing new industry into the community.
When considering pre-zoning The Silos at Conway from Rural to Limited Development District, Ward 6 Council member Bob Parsons denied unanimous consent.
“In the past several days, there have been moving parts,” Parsons said. “I thought it would be more appropriate to take a breath and have a look at it again with a clearer plan.”
Buston explained that pre-zoning is a way for the Council to show an applicant that their property would be rezoned if it were annexed into the City. The applicant could then apply for their property to be annexed into the City.
When considering pre-zoning a property at 2449 Moores Mill Road, Ward 5 Council member Steven Dixon denied unanimous consent.
Both pre-zoning requests will be on the agenda for the Oct. 6 City Council meeting.
The Council approved a resolution declaring an entertainment district downtown during the first two University football games, which allows patrons to walk up to bars to purchase drinks if they are outdoors.
The City’s ordinance prohibiting walk-up indoor bar service will still be in effect. Businesses will be able to set up temporary outdoor bars for the events.
Auburn’s Public Safety Department will be actively enforcing both the statewide health order and the City’s ordinance, Buston said.
“We’re trying to be as accommodating as we can to our local businesses, while at the same time being cognizant of what we’re being asked to do by the University and healthcare providers,” Buston said. “It’s a compromise. Maybe we’re making everyone unhappy instead of making one side unhappy. This is what we’ve come up with.”
Hovey showed his support of the proposal, saying he wants to be able to expedite the process of obtaining any necessary permits for the event. Dawson, a retired police chief, opposed.
“I’m opposed to it because I think we’re asking our police officers to do one thing one month and another thing the next month,” Dawson said. “I don’t think they’re going to know what they need to do. It’s confusing to me, for the police especially.”
Dawson stated he sympathizes with downtown businesses, but he has concerns for the Public Safety Department enforcing the regulations during the events.
While Anders said he is not expecting a massive crowd in town on gameday, many local hotels are nearly full for the first football weekend.
The entertainment district resolution passed in an 8-1 vote, with Dawson opposing.
During Citizens’ Communications, Lee County resident Tara Brumfield brought to the Council’s attention the proposed quarry in Beulah. The proposed quarry is planned by Creekwood Resources, the same company that proposed a quarry on the border of Opelika in early 2020. Brumfield said the quarry is located six miles from the original proposed location, which the Council opposed earlier in the year, and asked that the Council write a resolution in opposition of the current proposal as well.
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