During Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the Council unanimously approved the appointment of Assistant City Manager Megan Crouch to the city manager position, effective Feb. 1, 2021. City Manager Jim Buston will retire on Jan. 31.
During Citizens’ Communications, multiple residents spoke to the Council in support of Crouch’s appointment. Representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, economic development and Auburn University spoke in her support.
Ward 2 Council member Kelley Griswold spoke against the preselection of a candidate due to his experience in the military, but he is in support of Crouch as the next city manager.
During his announcements, Mayor Ron Anders sent his condolences to Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, whose wife passed away earlier in the day.
Anders also announced that Auburn has been ranked in the top 100 communities in the United States. Ward 2 Council member Beth Witten added that Cary Woods Elementary is the best public elementary school in Alabama.
Auburn Student Government Association City Relations Manager Abby Ronson announced to the Council that the University has waived application fees and standardized testing requirements due to the pandemic.
Ward 7 Council member Bob Parsons asked about a contract entering the City into a lawsuit regarding the opioid epidemic.
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Buston explained that some pharmaceutical companies were in malpractice for advertising of opioids, specifically in their addictive properties. Multiple communities have entered lawsuits against these companies to recoup the costs of law enforcement when dealing with the opioid epidemic.
Auburn is not starting a lawsuit, instead entering an existing one, Buston explained. Most states have an ongoing lawsuit. The City will not put money towards the lawsuit, only receiving funds if a settlement is made. The City, in turn, is allowing its name to be used in the lawsuit.
Buston said the City has not had to budget specifically to combat any opioid epidemic.
Ward 8 Council member Tommy Dawson said that the opioid epidemic is a hidden cost incurred by the police department. Though he does not want to take money from a pharmaceutical company for the actions of a drug addict, he feels it is fair to settle for money to bring back to the community.
Witten and Ward 4 Council member Brett Smith agreed that the Council was told information in an executive session which may be confidential information, so the Council could not share all information regarding the case at this time.
The agenda item passed in a 6-3 vote, with Parsons, Dixon and Griswold voting in opposition.
The Council approved amending a City zoning ordinance, reducing the maximum number of beds in the University Neighborhood West student housing district from 255 beds per acre to 170 and removing academic detached dwelling units from Medium Density Residential Districts and Neighborhood Redevelopment Districts. Smith abstained.
Witten moved to divide the vote into the two separate issues instead of considering the two amendments in one vote. Buston explained that the two amendments were dealt with separately by the Planning Commission.
The ordinances were divided in a 7-2 vote, with Parsons and Griswold voting in opposition.
Anders proposed that the Council postpone voting for the amendments until Nov. 3.
“The content we’re deliberating on tonight is a direct result of the student housing task force,” Parsons said. “Here we are, it seems to me, dismantling the work they’ve done. I think we run the risk of looking as though we’re doing theater for our public rather than doing actual work. I would caution this body to bear in mind that we are possibly muddying the waters of a very serious task force that the mayor himself initiated.”
Griswold stated that the Planning Commission held multiple work sessions to create the recommendations presented to the Council. He agreed with Parsons, saying the task force should be paid attention to so it would not seem as a “publicity show.”
Planning Director Forrest Cotten stated that the postponement of these ordinances would not affect the student housing moratorium, which deals with the discussed zoning types. The current moratorium will end in December.
“I would like to have time to look at 170 [beds per acre] and study if this is the right number for our community,” Anders said. “The final decision rests with us. I respect the Planning Commission and I respect the task force.”
The Council voted to postpone the vote until the next meeting in a 6-2 vote. Griswold and Parsons voted in opposition. Smith abstained.
Dawson wanted to modify the second ordinance, allowing ADDUs in MDRD districts but not in NRD districts. ADDUs would require conditional use approval as they do under current legislation.
Dawson cited constituent feedback against ADDUs in NRD districts but not in MDRD districts. Parsons heard similar feedback.
“Here we are again, it’s a troubling precedent,” Parsons said. “I think it will show to the public that we’re performing theater.”
Witten countered Parson’s statement, stating that the Council is following the proper procedure. She stated that making a swift change to the zoning regulations would be a disservice to the community.
“We have two zones that are at completely opposite sides of this community [that] have completely different cultures and neighborhood vibes,” Witten said. “For us to have this conversation now is part of the process and is part of our duty. To call it theater is a disservice to our process and our job.”
Smith stated that the MDRD district in his ward is in favor of allowing ADDUs.
“I take my actions very seriously,” Smith said. “To suggest otherwise is downright dirty.”
Ward 7 Council member Jay Hovey, as a member of the task force in question, feels that ADDUs are an appropriate housing type for students, likening it to a duplex. They were highly favored by students in the task force and Hovey feels they are highly suited for the MDRD district. Dawson, another member of the task force, agreed that ADDUs were favored for the MDRD district.
“The big picture for me is that this Council has been faced with a problem of excess student housing, to the point where Mayor Anders felt it important to dig into the data,” Parsons said. “I don’t have the numbers with me, but I believe the task force’s finding are that we have an excess of student housing, and in response to that information, I think it’s fair to say the City looked at means to slow this product in our housing market. What we have been given is an answer to that problem.”
Parsons was bothered by the Council’s potential discounting of the work put into the ordinances thus far.
“When I formed the task force, it was my desire to be more informed, have great debate, glean from the students what their desires were and make great decisions for our community moving forward,” Anders said. “What we found out is we’re oversubscribed with student beds … and that there is a need for us to make these considerations. We held at least five focus groups on campus. Without question, one of the largest comments that came out of that is that the students prefer to live in these single cottage types of houses. So, I believe the ADDU is a practical component of student living today and student living in the future.”
Anders believes the oversubscription of student housing primarily occurs in large-scale projects on the western side of downtown.
The Council amended the ordinance in a 6-3 vote. Griswold, Witten and Parsons voted in opposition. The proposal was amended, allowing ADDUs in MDRD districts but not in NRD districts.
The Council approved the amended ordinance in a 6-3 vote. Hovey, Witten and Smith voted in opposition.
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