KIMBERLY — “Well, there goes my re-election chances.”
Mayor Bob Ellerbrock made that remark just after adjourning a contentious meeting of the Kimberly City Council. Moments before, he cast the deciding vote that resulted in the rejection of a request to rezone a vacant supermarket building, in order for it to be purchased and used by a church.
The 3-3 vote came during Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, which itself followed a public hearing regarding the request. Both were held before a council chamber packed largely with supporters of the request from Church 29:11, which seeks to move its growing congregation from its current facility on Mt. Olive Road to the former IGA Supermarket on U.S. 31.
The rezoning request, which would have reclassified the property from C-2 commercial to institutional, was filed by Peoples Bank of Alabama, the Cullman-based bank which repossessed the building after the supermarket operators defaulted. The bank has been trying to sell the property to other businesses for a couple of years, but to no avail.
The city’s planning and zoning board had recommended against the request in a meeting on Jan. 3, which was also packed with supporters.
Council members Donnie Gooch and John Richardson joined Ellerbrock in voting against the request. Lance Shivers, Donna Cude and Brian Pharris voted in favor.
The meeting became hostile at times; in one testy exchange, Ellerbrock accused Peoples Bank president Chris Sawyer of lying about the city’s offers of tax abatements for prospective business tenants.
“That’s a lie — that’s just flat-out wrong,” Ellerbrock said when Sawyer accused the city of not wanting to offer tax abatements.
(A prospective tenant had approached the city last year about opening a new grocery store in the building, but asked the council to foot the bill for a feasibility study. The council turned that request down.)