By Alison James
“We are trying too hard to build it back up to where it needs to be. I certainly don’t want liquor stores, tobacco shops and whatever ... I certainly don’t want that right next door to me.”
Drawing this concern from Beatrice Allen and similar concerns from her neighbors was a rezoning request on Tuesday’s Planning Commission agenda.
Ray Herring’s request to rezone four lots on Clanton Street and 1015 Lake Street – from a C2 commercial zone to a less-restrictive C3 commercial zone – brought several community members to the public hearing Tuesday.
Herring had recently been informed that his practice of outdoor storage of cars on his property was illegal in a C2 zone.
“I’d like to park some cars – use the vacant land to park cars,” Herring said. “Temporary storage – like a week or two weeks.”
In discussing the rezoning at the Feb. 18 work session, commission members expressed hesitance to approve the measure, in large part because of what a C3 zone could allow in the future, beyond simple outdoor storage of vehicles. It was this possibility that stirred Bishop Kenneth Carter of Christ Temple Holiness Church on Clanton Street, one of the several area residents who attended to oppose the rezoning.
“You start out parking cars, but then the next year it could be clubbing or something,” Carter said. “I’m not against the business, but I can’t support this.”
Allen, in addition to her concerns about liquor and tobacco stores, expressed concerns that cars would begin to overflow into a vacant lot in that area that belongs to her.
“They’re not going to park behind it. They’re not going to park on the side of it. We don’t need that kind of business in our neighborhood,” Allen said.
Others spoke about the dangers the rezoning would pose to the children – by sending down the wrong path because of night clubs and liquor stores, and by endangering them with increased traffic.
At the Feb. 18 work session, in light of the commission hesitancy on the rezoning, another option was suggested. Commissioners considered the possibility of changing the definition of a C2 zone to allow conditional use outdoor storage of vehicles – meaning the practice would be allowable, dependent upon commission approval. Planning Director Jerry Kelly informed the commission that he had scheduled the meeting, as directed, for Feb. 28 at 9 a.m. and began drafting the language for a new C2 zone with input from attorney Guy Gunter but said, “in our recommendation to you, if it gets to that point, (planning staff) will not support what you have directed us to write, but that’s at the pleasure of the planning commission.”
Councilwoman Patsy Jones also came to speak for constituents in her ward who desired to oppose the rezoning but were unable to attend the meeting. She opposed both the rezoning as well as the called meeting and possibility of changing the definition of the C2 zone.
“It goes in the back door of what we’re rejecting right now,” said Jones of the called meeting. “You are slapping us as citizens in the face.”
Jones spoke of the efforts the citizens have made to improve the quality of their neighborhood and urged the commission not to recommend anything that would damage the character of the neighborhood.
“That is exactly what is going to happen when you consider a C3 zone,” Jones said. “I ask the planning commission to follow the law that is there for us because that is the only thing we have to protect us, as citizens living there. (Additionally), conditional approval is based on each one of you making an opinion, and your opinion may be different from the citizens who live there, who have to be subjected to that.”
Gene Tucker, speaking on behalf of 400 Clanton St., pointed out that the request is not to bring anything new or change anything in the neighborhood – only to continue what they have been doing.
“There won’t be people ripping up and down the road in cars,” Tucker said. “We’re wanting to use this property as we’ve always used it. We just want to continue doing what we’ve always done – again, not knowing that we were doing it illegally.”
Tucker suggested that the opposition to what they are doing arose when another person stored a much larger number of cars in the area and moved them in and out during the night, disturbing the neighborhood.
Following the public hearing, Herring withdrew his request to rezone the five lots. The called, open meeting will be held Friday as scheduled to consider the possibility of adding a conditional use section for outdoor vehicle storage to a C2 zone.
The commission also:
- ratified the subdivision of Northeast Opelika Industrial Park for Hanwha expansion
- approved conditional use pending ALDOT approval and with staff recommendations for a new Taco Bell on Columbus Parkway
- voted to amend the zoning map for 1460-2200 block of Gateway Drive, 2400-2600 block of First Avenue, 204 N. 26th St., 1900-1950 block of Cunningham Drive, 2006-2213 block of Airport Road and 3000 Hi Pack Drive.
- recommended text amendments to the definition of Package Liquor Store and Convenience Store and to amend Section 7.3 Use Categories matrix tables concerning Package Liquor Store
- discussed an upcoming planning commission webinar
By Fred Woods
Dr. John Wesley Darden
John Wesley Darden, born Sept. 27, 1876, in Wilson, N.C., was the eldest child of Charles Henry and Dianah Scarborough Darden. In their book, “Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine,” Norma Jean and Carol Darden have this to say about their uncle, Dr. John W. Darden. “From the age of ten, when he was unable to find medical assistance for his unconscious sister, Annie, John had one driving goal, and that was to become a doctor.
“At the age of thirteen, he was sent by Papa Darden to high school in Salisbury, N.C. Lean years followed as he worked his way through Livingstone College, medical school and an internship in Long Island, N.Y.
“His was a long, hard struggle, but when he made it the pattern was established that the younger ones would follow. Summer jobs, mainly on the railroad and ships, took John all over the country. But he always found his way back to Wilson (N.C.) to share what he had seen and learned of the world and to encourage his brothers and sisters in their pursuits. By the time he was ready to put out his shingle in 1903, Wilson already had black medical care, so John went deeper south, settling in Opelika, Ala., where, as the only black doctor in a 30-mile radius, he was greeted with an 18-hour workday.”
After a time, Darden opened a drugstore on Avenue A. His brother, J.B., had just earned his degree in pharmacy from Howard University, so he was recruited as a partner. The two brothers dispensed prescriptions and cosmetics, ice cream and a lot of good cheer, and the store became a meeting place for the community. Local residents say that their Sunday was not complete without a stroll to the drugstore for a chat and a scoop of Darden’s homemade ice cream.
Among Darden’s medical contemporaries was Dr. Homer Bruce. Bruce held the black doctor’s skills in high esteem, and, unusual for their time, the doctors frequently called each other in for consultation.
Darden died Jan. 10, 1949. He and his wife, Jean, who died in 1976, are buried in Rosemere Cemetery.
Frank Evelyn Steele
Dr. Frank E. Steele, a native of the island nation of Trinidad, was another of Opelika’s prominent black doctors. Steele received his early education in New York, took his undergraduate degree at Alfred University and completed medical school at Howard University in Washington, DC.
In 1947 Steele opened his office on 9th Street in downtown Opelika. He also practiced at the John A. Andrews Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tuskegee. At the time of his death he was serving as coordinator of Outpatient and Long Term Care Services at the VA Hospital.
Steele, his wife, Corrine, and daughter (now Florence Steele Kidd of Nashville, Tenn.), lived on Auburn Street across the street from the Dardens. Steele died in 1977 and was buried in New York City after funeral services in both Opelika and Tuskegee.
Eugene A. Lindsey
Opelika’s other prominent early black physician was Dr. Eugene A. Lindsey. He was born in 1882 in LaGrange, Ga., and died in May of 1955. He was also the owner of Lindsey’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain on Ninth Street. It was one of the few places where black citizens could sit while waiting for prescriptions to be filled or just sit and socialize. The drugstore was still in full operation in the late1950s, apparently operated by someone other than Lindsey.
The Lindseys built a beautiful brick colonial home on the east end of Avenue A, just east of 3rd Street. The house was later used as a funeral home for a time and is now abandoned, but one can still see vestiges of its former beauty and grandeur.
Dr. W.F. Clark, a native of Selma, was born in 1882. Clark was the first, and for many years the only, black dentist to practice in Opelika. He completed college and dental school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., finishing dental school at the head of his class.
The friendly, small-in-stature dentist practiced his profession in a building in downtown Opelika for more than 50 years. He was apparently highly respected in the dental profession based on his numerous writings in refereed journals and his membership on numerous prestigious professional committees.
Clark was married to the former Fannie Logan, the sister of Jean (Mrs. J.H.) Darden, the subject of an “Observer” story last week. The beloved gentle dentist died in 1966.