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Chapel Road Land brings Community Talk: an informational roundup of the issues

  By Heather , Bluffparkal.org  heather@bluffparkal.org  


There is a lot of talk in the community and all of Hoover on the recent purchase of the 79-acre natural land in the Chapel Road/Simmons Middle School/Gwen Elementary School area of Bluff Park. To put it all together, here is an outline of the issues, recent Newspaper articles and quotes from an exclusive interview with Councilman Gene Smith with Bluffparkal.org.  

First of all: 

History of the Purchase and the Apartments Issue

Who had the land and what was it for? The property starts at Chapel Road adjoining Gwin Elementary School, Simmons Middle School and The Moss Rock Preserve.  It was zoned in Jefferson County and for apartments.  A private developer had ownership of the land.  There was some destruction to the land and trees a few years back by this developer.  The land was also considered for annexation then but that did not happen. 

Why and when did the city of Hoover buy the land The Hoover City Council purchased the 79-acre areas on Chapel Road last November.  The land was zoned for over 600 apartments that the city did not want.  The Birmingham News quotes Councilman Jack Wright as saying, "It's a strategic piece of land for the city, it would have been a "traffic nightmare" to build apartments on the site.

Councilman Gene Smith tells Bluffparkal.org in an email interview in February 2008, “When the property was purchased it was stated then that it would be for city or educational use.  I believe that Hoover currently offers a more than appropriate number of apartment and multi-family housing opportunities.  The property has not yet been rezoned to Hoover Zoning classifications.  That would originate through the City Planner and the Planning & Zoning Commission prior to coming to the Council.  However, the County Zoning does move with the annexation until such time that the City does rezone it.”  I know that I would not support the sale of property for apartments.  I feel comfortable to say that I do not believe that anyone else of the council would either.   

The School/ 3rd High School/Expansion Issue With the Land

There is talk of using part of the land for possible needs for Hoover Schools.

“We have informed the school system that we would be open to their needs for at least part of the property if they felt it necessary.  We do not plan to install any form of organized sporting fields there at this time.  The topography is not very conducive to fields large enough.  Nor would we care to create lighting in that area.”  Councilman Gene Smith in a Bluffparkal.org interview February 2008.   

The school issues are a wide topic on several Internet forums for the Hoover area.  This includes community talk about the land in question. 

Question to Councilman Gene Smith - As I am sure you know, many parents are concerned about the over population of the schools, and they are concerned about this land being used for more apartments or even a new school or a 3rd High School.  What can you tell citizens of Bluff Park to calm any fears about apartments, disruptions to the community and the moving of kids in Bluff Park and elsewhere?

“I know that it was mentioned at the Simmons meeting that expanding that campus (Simmons) or a new High School is/has been on the table for discussion.  However, it is my understanding that in order to excavate that property for a high school would cost in excess of $15 million.  Making that prospect less attractive.  As far as changing school zones, I have watched that be a topic of exceptional emotion for quite a number of years.  It is an option that no one finds appealing.  I hope that the Superintendent can find adjustments that people feel they can live with, if not at least take some ownership in. From the many meeting held by Mr. Craig (superintendent Hoover Schools), I personally find it unlikely that a complete high school campus could be used on that site.  Largely because of the cost of preparing the property.”  Councilman Gene Smith in a Bluffparkal.org interview February 2008.   

Mr. Craig has noted in community meetings about the long-range plans for the school system that the use of some of the land to expand Simmons to a High School was on the table but was fully aware that there were terrain problems. 

*Comments from Councilman Gene Smith are exclusive to Bluffparkal.org from an email interview. 

Nature Park/Preservation Issue With the Land

The other side of this story comes from what is natural - the desire to preserve what is natural while repairing what damage has been done to the property. 

In November 2007, Mayor Tony Petelos was quoted in a Birmingham News article about the land when it was brought up to the council to purchase it.  “Petelos said the city plans to clean up the property, which includes a creek and waterfall, and might develop a park with trails or make the land available to the two schools.  He said the city would not sell it for any other type of development.  “We're going to make it a beautiful piece of land," Petelos said. "It's a great opportunity for the city."  Mayor Tony Petelos.

It is still my understanding that the Mayor has requested that we leave the property as natural as possible,” Councilman Gene Smith says.  I believe the property is good for the community because of it's centralized location within the more densely populated part of our City.  It is unfortunate that we were not able to obtain the property before the destruction caused by the previous developer.  Sitting next to two schools and adjacent to the Moss Rock Preserve make it a valuable asset to Hoover.  The Mayor has been very forward in the fact that he plans to conduct public opportunities as to what should exactly happen with the property, hopefully this Spring.  I look forward to the public hearings the Mayor has indicated he will hold to receive public input about how the park should go forward.”  Councilman Gene Smith in a Bluffparkal.org interview February 2008.   

Last month (February), another article ran in the Birmingham News centering on Councilman Jack Wright saying he wants the city to use some of the land to expand/add to the Moss Rock Preserve nature park, and he would like the council to consider a resolution in the upcoming months to spell out what will be preserved and what will be given to the school system.  

Learn more and read more quotes from the City Council and Superintendent Andy Craig in these Birmingham News AL.com articles

Hoover may buy land to stop apartments

Hoover City Councilman wants city to expand Moss Roack Preserve, not build new school on site.

So what is out there in this area?  Bluffparkal.org has obtained stunning photos and commentary from Resident and Science teacher at the Altamont School Kurt Kristensen. Click here for more.





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