The City of Helena vs. Pelham Board of Education

City of Helena and Pelham zoning
City of Helena and Pelham zoning(WBRC FOX6 News)
Published: Dec. 13, 2022 at 3:38 PM CST
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SHELBY CO., Ala. (WBRC) - Back In June 2021, the Pelham Board of Education purchased 52 acres of undeveloped land located within the city limits of Helena.

Helena collects property taxes on the land, and the land was zoned for single-family residential use under Helena’s zoning ordinance. After purchasing the land, the Pelham Board began clearing the land for the purpose of an athletic field for Pelham High School. The athletic-field project was delayed by Helena’s stop work orders to enforce its zoning ordinance.

The city of Helena wants to either enforce their zoning regulations or ask that Pelham BOE annexes the land. If the land is annexed by Pelham, then the land will no longer be in Helena’s police, fire and city’s jurisdiction.

The Pelham BOE claims that the Alabama law excludes school systems from following zoning ordinances as long as the development is for governmental purposes.

Helena claims that only applies when the zoning is within the same city as the school system.

Due to Pelham BOE continuing construction on the land, the city of Helena sued Pelham BOE. However, in May 2022, Shelby County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Kennedy ruled that in favor of Pelham BOE. They stated that Pelham BOE was an agency of the state and was not subject to the zoning regulations of the city of Helena.

In October 2022, Helena took the case to the Alabama Supreme Court and it was ruled that Judge Kennedy did not follow the mandatory requirements in his initial ruling and the case was dissolved, reversed and remanded.

Now present day, the city of Helena believes the reversal put this case back to square one and has reinstated the stop work orders for violation of Helena’s zoning ordinance, among other violations.

However, Pelham BOE has continued with construction.

A recent statement from the city of Helena reads as follows:

“The City of Helena values its relationship with the City of Pelham and looks forward to a solution in this matter regarding The Pelham Board of Education (”PBOE”) so both Cities can continue to support each other and work together as they have for many years. Helena’s position is based on the law and simple, the PBOE can operate only: ‘within the City of Pelham as provided by law’, See City of Pelham Ordinance 2013-09- 09-01, ‘within such city and adjacent territory to the city which has been annexed....’ Ala. Code § 16-11-9. The 52-acre parcel of property at issue is located within the city limits of Helena, not Pelham, and Pelham has not annexed that parcel. Under Alabama law: Vestavia annexed the old Berry High School Property in Hoover before the Vestavia BOE could use it, Homewood annexed property in Jefferson County before the Homewood BOE could use it. Avoiding Chaos, the annexation requirement keeps a city’s board of education operating in its own city where the people elect the city council and the BOE members are elected or appointed. Otherwise, the Mountain Brook board education could operate in Homewood. And the Homewood board of education could operate in Vestavia. If PBOE’s argument stands, and Pelham does not have to annex the property, the taxpayers of Helena could be forced to pay for police and fire protection for the Pelham BOE. This has already happened once. Helena’s Zoning Ordinance Further, PBOE cannot violate Helena’s zoning ordinance which reserved the property at issue for single-family residential use, not educational use. While PBOE says education is a “governmental function” that is exempt from zoning ordinances, Helena is the government in charge of the land at issue, not Pelham.”

Pelham BOE said in a recent statement:

“Any suggestion that the Pelham Board of Education is or ever has been in violation of any court order or ruling regarding the construction of the athletic practice field that is a part of its high school campus is incorrect. The Board is working toward completion of the project under authority of a permit issued by the Alabama Division of Construction Management and a host of statutes, Attorney General opinions, and court decisions, including Judge Kennedy’s decision in this case of May 6, 2022. Importantly, in sending the case back to Judge Kennedy for further proceedings, the Supreme Court imposed no restriction of any kind on the Pelham Board’s right to proceed with the project, and the Pelham Board’s actions are completely consistent with the declaratory ruling made by Judge Kennedy.”

Both Helena and Pelham BOE are waiting for another ruling from Judge Kennedy. In the event Judge Kennedy rules in favor of the Pelham BOE again, Helena plans to return back to the supreme court.

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