By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
BIRMINGHAM — A judge will rule in two weeks on whether a lawsuit against the city of Fultondale will go to trial or will be thrown out.
Jefferson Circuit Judge Tom King heard arguments Thursday that the suit by C&L Properties and owner John Douglas should be dismissed by summary judgement, primarily because the city claims Douglas failed to follow proper procedures in applying to rebuild Home Field Sports Grill on Decatur Highway.
(A summary judgement is issued by a court when it believes a case should not proceed because it lacks merit, or for other technical reasons. Motions for summary judgement are frequently sought by defendants in civil cases.)
Home Field was heavily damaged by the April 2011 tornado that hit the city. At the heart of the dispute is whether the tornado damaged the building beyond a 50-percent threshold of current replacement cost. City inspectors and engineers claim that it is above that level, and therefore would have to be rebuilt according to current codes and zoning ordinances.
Douglas contends that it was not damaged beyond 50 percent, and should be allowed to be repaired as a “non-conforming” building, as the original structure was built before Fultondale’s zoning laws were enacted.
During Thursday’s hearing, plaintiff’s attorney Mike Brown said that the city had prepared site plans for redevelopment of the Home Field property as far back as 2009, well before the tornado. Brown said the plans were obtained from city councilman Greg Morris, and showed plans for a grocery store to be built on the site. That grocery was believed to be an Aldi store; the company has since chosen another site on Walker Chapel Road and a store is under construction.
Defense attorney Wayne Morse dismissed the plans, saying Morris and Douglas “are cigar-smoking buddies on Thursday nights.”
Douglas’ dispute with the city spilled over into city politics last year, as he unsuccessfully ran against longtime mayor Jim Lowery.
King told both parties to prepare proposed orders for his consideration; he said he would rule on the summary-judgement motion on Aug. 8.
If King rules that the case should go forward, a trial date has been scheduled for Sept. 9.
[Edited at 1:07 p.m. to correct Morse's last name, and to reflect that the 50-percent threshold refers to current replacement cost, not structual integrity.]