After heated comments from several Christine Avenue residents at the Thursday Anniston City Council meeting, city manager Brian Johnson said the city would hire a lawyer to oppose attorney Doug Mooneyham's efforts to keep his law office in their neighborhood. The offer was a compromise to the residents who were frustrated that the city, which initially approved the firm's location, was not representing them in the matter.
"I see that you're frustrated that the city is taking a neutral stance ... but the city can't win either way in this," Johnson said. "But you being here, I've heard you loud and clear, and we're willing to do this on the city's dime."
The residents at the meeting agreed to the compromise and Johnson said he would contact them in the next few days to discuss which attorney to hire.
Mooneyham, owner of a house on 1505 Christine Ave., paved a parking lot on the front yard and has used the building as his law office for more than a year. The previous city council granted him permission to operate a business in the neighborhood, which is zoned for residential use.
After complaints from residents that his business was in violation of a city ordinance, the Anniston Zoning Board of Adjustments in October revoked its permission for him to operate a business on Christine Avenue. Mooneyham filed an appeal challenging the decision in Calhoun County Circuit Court later that month. When a judge hears the appeal, the city-hired attorney will represent the Christine Avenue residents.
Mooneyham, who was not at the meeting, said during a brief phone interview Thursday evening that the city had first given him permission to operate a business on Christine Avenue and that he has considered taking further legal action should his latest appeal fail.
"I have considered suing the city, but I haven't made a decision," Mooneyham said.
Several of the Christine Avenue residents expressed concerns that the changes to the house disrupted the pristine look of the area, which includes several historical homes. Others claimed the business was a safety hazard, saying many cars were coming to and from the business, potentially endangering children and people walking the nearby sidewalks.
"I'd really rather not be here, I'd rather be planning meals for my great-great-grandchildren," said Linda Voelkel, who has lived on Christine Avenue since 2000. "But I want to fight for my neighborhood to remain a neighborhood."
Joey Crews, who owns a house near Mooneyham's business, said the city should enforce its laws.
"Mr. Mooneyham is breaking the law and you need to make sure to close him down," Crews said to the council.
City Attorney Bruce Downey told the group that the council did not have the authority to make a decision in the matter, noting that the court has temporarily ordered the city not to enforce the ordinance in Mooneyham's case. Downey added that the law is not black and white in the case.
"The law says the house's use as a business is not permitted," Downey said. "But the law also says he has a right to seek an exception."
Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he could not comment directly about the issue due to possible litigation, but added that he and the council were not ignoring the Christine Avenue residents.
"Do not equate our lack of response as a lack of concern," Stewart said.
During the meeting, the council also agreed to give $75,000 to Anniston-based North American Bus Industries as part of a state agreement to aid in the company's expansion. The city gave the bus manufacturer $100,000 earlier this year as part of the same deal. NABI has invested $6.3 million in the expansion, creating 96 jobs.
Also during the meeting, the council agreed to increase rates at the city-owned Edgemont and Hillside cemeteries. Johnson said the prices needed adjustment to put them more in line with standard rates. The last time the rates were adjusted were in the late 1970s, he said.
Previously, the city just charged $195 across the board per plot. The Edgemont plot rates now range from $500 to $700, depending on their location. Adult Hillside Cemetery plots will be sold for $195 while single child gravesites will be sold for $125 each.
"While the rates are rising in these two cemeteries, those rates are still below those of neighboring cemeteries," said Councilman Jay Jenkins. "This is just bringing us up so we can break even."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.