Councilman Billy Jackson said a $271,310 expenditure approved by the City Council to build a Southeast Decatur park violates the federal grant's requirement that the money be spent to improve a blighted, moderate-to-low-income neighborhood.
The council voted 4-1 on Monday to award the construction contract to E-Tech Construction on the pocket park on vacant city property at the northeast corner of Enolam Boulevard and 19th Avenue Southeast, near East Acres housing project. The park will feature a pavilion, sidewalks and landscaping.
Jackson said he drove by the park location multiple times before deciding the spot doesn’t meet intent of the federal Community Development Block Grant.
“Anyone who drives by that property would come to the same conclusion,” Jackson said. “This park will not be used by the neighborhood.”
Jackson claims this is another example of ongoing attempts by other council members to raid the funds that used to go only to his District 1, a minority-majority district that covers Northwest Decatur and a portion of Southwest Decatur.
However, a small section of District 2 in the Riverside area of Southeast Decatur and District 4 in the Austinville area of Southwest Decatur now qualify for the CDBG program.
“If it was something that impacted a district in a positive way, I would support it,” Jackson said. “But we’re spending almost $300,000 on a corner lot, and I don’t think it’s conducive to bring up the area or removing blight.”
Jackson said the raid attempts go back to the previous term when District 2 Councilman Roger Anders wanted to build a wall along Church Street Northeast “to block the blight of the neighborhood behind, not fix the blight.”
The city ended up scrapping the wall plans because it went over budget and there was a conflict with a Decatur Utilities easement. It opted instead to landscape a corner of Church Street and Somerville Road.
District 2 Councilwoman Kristi Hill brought the Enolam park to the council at the request of the East Decatur Community group led by Community Action Partnership of North Alabama.
Hill pointed out that, in June, the group did a NeighborWorks weeklong cleanup along Enolam Boulevard. More than 150 volunteers from businesses, city departments and civic groups participated in the effort to improve the neighborhood, which is between the East Acres housing project and Decatur Morgan Hospital.
“A lot of people in east Decatur want this project,” Hill said. “It improves their quality of life. They have a plan for their neighborhood, and they believe the park will be a big asset.”
Allen Stover manages the CDBG money as the city’s Community Development supervisor. He said the target area meets the requirement that 51% of the residents are low to moderate income.
“It’s only a half a block from East Acres,” Stover said. “The park is in the targeted area (that qualifies for CDBG).”
While Delano, Wilson Morgan and Rhodes Ferry parks are considered “city parks,” Stover said, the Enolam park also qualifies for the federal grant money because it benefits only the local neighborhood.
“Even if the neighborhood around Delano qualified, Delano wouldn’t be eligible because the whole city uses it,” Stover said. “People from all over the city come to play softball at Wilson Morgan.”
Council President Paige Bibbee said she is concerned that E-Tech was the only bidder on the project.
Bibbee on Monday asked Stover if there is a construction timeline with penalties for failure to meet the deadline because she felt E-Tech took too long to build Rough Riders Park.
Stover said the contract calls for construction to take 120 days.