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Huntsville annexes 1,220 acres in Limestone County near Athens

ATHENS — The Huntsville City Council on Thursday night annexed 1,220.5 acres in Limestone County south of Huntsville Brownsferry Road, acreage that Athens officials had hoped to annex into their city.

The land will be zoned for commercial or industrial use.

The Huntsville City Council unanimously approved annexing the property owned by Haney Ltd. The annexed property begins about one-half mile south of Huntsville Brownsferry Road and extends 2 miles south to a point about 400 feet north of Laughmiller Road. At its widest point, the annexed area is about 1.5 miles, east to west, from U.S. 31 to Interstate 65.

The southern boundary of the annexed land is about 2.3 miles north of the northernmost boundary of the city of Decatur.

State law requires annexed land to be contiguous to the existing border of a municipality. A corner of the Haney property touches a corner of property previously annexed by Huntsville.

Harold Wales, Athens City Council president and District 2 councilman, said if the property had been annexed into Athens it would have been in his district. He said the council members believed the property owners were going to annex the land into Athens.

“We (council members) contacted the homeowners and made physical personal visits to them,” Wales said. “We thought for a while that we were in good standing to get that property and annex it into the city.”

Wales said they were told Athens was definitely being considered for annexation.

“But then something happened, which we don’t have an explanation for. They decided to put it into Huntsville instead of the city of Athens,” he said.

Representatives of Haney Ltd. could not be reached Friday.

Wales said he hates to see another city on the outskirts of Athens.

“I’m just sick about that and sorry about that. I really wish there’s something we could have done,” he said.

Athens Mayor Ronnie Marks said any property owner has the right to petition to be annexed into a municipality.

“It’s disappointing to me. However, it does not stop our progress in going down in the area down close to Huntsville Brownsferry (Road),” he said.

The direction of Athens’ growth now, Marks said, is what “we’ve done at Buc-ee’s out to the Tanner interchange and everywhere that we can provide services. And then, in the future, maybe looking at a little expansion to our west.”

Marks said his priority for the city is to provide services to Athens citizens.

“This does not hamper our future,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it but adjust to it and let us continue our growth. My concern is providing the best service that we can for our citizens.”

Marks said Athens will continue to work with Huntsville when it comes to industrial growth such as Mazda Toyota Manufacturing and Polaris.

“We work together when we can, and we work on our own cities and our own revenue streams,” he said. “That’s critical to all of us.”

Wales said he worries about Huntsville continuing to annex property that Athens wants to annex.

“We’re doing everything we can to close all the southern borders and we’ve made great strides in the last four or five years,” he said. “Going forward, all we can do now is to look at other pieces of property in that area and talk to the people and see if we can get it annexed into the city. And we are doing that now, I can promise you.”

Marks said there will be a special public meeting Thursday at 10 a.m. concerning the possible annexation of about 200 acres of the Braly property, which runs along I-65 near the Huntsville-annexed Haney acreage.

Collin Daly, Limestone County Commission chairman, said Huntsville’s annexation will not affect the county’s property tax.

“It’ll be the same revenue to the county either way; we’re going to get the same amount of taxes no matter what municipality it’s in,” he said. “… Cities have extra taxes added on. … The property owner’s tax will go up by them annexing it, but we will get the same dime as we got last year.”

Daly said there are eight municipalities in Limestone County and regardless of what city it is, they are still in Limestone County.

“Annexations happen every day from every city,” he said. “But as far as it being in Limestone County, … it’s nothing that affects us in a negative manner.”

Daly said Huntsville, rather than the county, will now have to provide services in that area.

“That’s fire service protection they’ve got to provide, police service protection, garbage pickup,” he said. “When they do develop it, they’ll have to provide that service instead of the county. … The cities can offer so much more services than the county can.”

At the Huntsville City Council meeting Thomas Nunez, Huntsville manager of planning services, said the annexed area will be serviced by Huntsville Fire Station 18 on Greenbrier Road.

Shane Davis, Huntsville director of Urban and Economic Development, said in the meeting that the council has already approved sewer expansion.

“Back in 2009, city council approved the purchase of sewer infrastructure that went from … west of U.S. 31 all the way to U.S. 72 East almost to County Line Road,” he said. “We purchased very critical public sewer infrastructure that is now owned by Water Pollution Control.

“It also purchased the service right area for sewer from U.S. 72 all the way south to Interstate 565 and went west to U.S. 31 boundaries. So, this falls within that. Actually, a portion of that infrastructure that we purchased is the southern boundary of this piece of property,” Davis said.

Davis said the annexation of the Haney property came with an agreement between the city and property owner that the property must be zoned for commercial or industrial use.

“We don’t want to impact city services,” he said at the meeting. “Trash pickup, brush, the things that would cause some of our departments to go way outside the ring of the city and come back in.”

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