The Baldwin County Commission approved a zoning change for a 4.06 acre piece of property owned by Malbis Plantation Inc. from residential single family to neighborhood business zoning at its Aug. 18 meeting. The property is located on the west side of State Highway 181 one fourth of a mile south of Lawson Road.

The county’s planning commission gave the zoning change a favorable recommendation at its July 9 meeting. The original rezoning application from Malbis Plantation included a larger, 28 acre parcel, but the applicant agreed to the 4 acre rezoning move to appease some who were concerned about the size of the property.

Adjacent properties are currently used for agriculture or residential purposes, with some neighborhood business zoning to the south. The purpose of the county’s neighborhood business zoning, or B-2, is to provide a limited commercial facility with building heights not to exceed three stories, serving nearby residential units. While the land is currently undeveloped agriculture and forested timberland, the proposed land use is for the developer to build a professional office.

The property is south of the proposed Daphne Innovation and Science Complex (DISC) location, which will be located at the southwest corner of the intersection of 181 and Champions Way/Lawson Road, near Daphne High School.

The commission received a handful of letters from residents in the Plantation Estates subdivision and Belforest in opposition to the zoning change. On Tuesday one resident, Lawrence Cox, spoke in opposition to the zoning change.

“I spent years as a commercial real estate broker, so I am no tree hugging opposer to development,” he said. “I just think this is inappropriate zoning. Proper zoning takes into context history of the land. This zoning would allow a shopping center, which I believe is out of context with this land.”

Commissioner Tucker Dorsey said he trusts Malbis Plantation Inc. to develop the land in a manner that will be consistent with other properties on plantation land.

“I think what Malbis folks have proposed fits with the rest of the area,” Dorsey said. “The request is appropriate for what’s going on with 181, which sooner or later is going to become a commercial corridor. The good news is the Malbis Plantation people are not going to to do anything that will be inconsistent with surrounding areas.”

Commissioner Chris Elliott noted the parcel’s proximity to the proposed DISC location, which he said he supports, as well as the future of 181. He also agreed with Dorsey on the direction the highway would likely move in the future.

“I believe this is the overall direction in which the 181 corridor is going,” Elliott said. “Eventually, 181 will become a solid commercial corridor.”

In other business, the commission approved a resolution in support of the permanent protection of a pair of land tracts near the Little Point Clear unit of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge.

Ray Herndon, director of the Lower Mississippi and Central Gulf Region of the Conservation Fund, gave a presentation on the protection plan. He also showed the commission letters of support for the project from U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, Fairhope Mayor Tim Kant, Weeks Bay Foundation Executive Director Ben Raines and former U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner.

The Conservation Fund has contracted to purchase an additional 488 acres to add to the Little Point Clear unit. Herndon said the Conservation Fund will not seek local funds for the purchase, but will pursue money through a number of sources including the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund managed by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment settlement, or funds provided to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (federal council) for environmental restoration projects.

According to the Conservation Fund’s project summary, the 488 acres include frontage along St. Andrews Bay, Bon Secour Bay and more than 200 acres of salt and freshwater wetlands, in addition to numerous tidal sloughs and adjacent upland areas. According to Herndon, the area could easily be used for recreational purposes like walking and biking trails, paddling, fishing and birding.

In other business, the commission recognized the winners of the 2014 Baldwin County Fire Chief and Firefighter of the Year awards. Silverhill VFD Chief Gary Patrick and Spanish Fort Fire and Rescue firefighter Darrell Raley were the respective winners.