The city of Daphne’s Board of Zoning Adjustment may have spiked a lucrative and high-profile entertainment development by refusing to table the only item on its agenda Monday night.
Weston Hawkins, owner of Mobile Volleyball LLC, was appealing the Planning Commission’s March 28 denial of his application to build a nine-court beach volleyball complex with an accompanying restaurant and bar across from Walmart on U.S. 98.
The city determined the site is not zoned for what was designated an “outdoor entertainment use.” Volleyball courts are courts are not specified in the city’s zoning ordinance, but the Commission decided it should be treated the same as tennis courts, playgrounds, parks or recreation centers.
Hawkins argued it was simply a restaurant.
After Board Chairman Willie Robison unilaterally denied his request to table the item to give the organization time to explore recent opportunities, Hawkins asked to withdraw the appeal completely. The Board complied and quickly adjourned.
Afterward, a disappointed but optimistic Hawkins told reporters the organization will likely find a home somewhere other than Daphne.
“We made a really good faith effort to work with the city on this, they told us up front they wanted us here and we committed a lot of resources and a lot of time and a lot of people here tonight donated professional services to get this thing off the ground,” he said. “When we went to work with the Zoning and Planning Commission, unfortunately they did not see the value in what we bring to the community.”
At the March Planning Commission meeting, some neighboring residents spoke in opposition to the project, citing concerns with lighting, noise, drainage and lack of shelter from sudden storms. Meeting minutes indicate commissioners “endorsed the sport and concept, but could not support the location.”
It voted 4-to-1 to deny the use as an outdoor amusement facility, with Chairman Mary Beth Bergin the sole member in support.
Afterward, Hawkins said, the organization had “a really good public debate with local residents … and tried to address all their issues and I think we were successful.” But, “between last month and this month, we reached out to City Council members and the mayor’s office several times and really the feedback we got was not very pro-business. It became very evident if we pursued this road further, if it wasn’t here that it was going to be stopped it was further down the road with a lot more money invested on the table.”
While the organization was also circulating a petition of support that ultimately garnered more than 2,500 signatures, Hawkins said he was approached by “five or six” individuals who urged him to consider options elsewhere. He wasn’t prepared to disclose exactly where those options may be, but he did indicate they were not in the city of Daphne.
“We wish the city luck, but it’s no skin off my back,” he said.
Hawkins said there is a need for more beach volleyball facilities in the area, noting there were more than 400 juniors teams in Gulf Shores last week as part of the NCAA’s National Beach Volleyball Tournament.
He said after he and like-minded friends initially founded the organization and hosted games and tournaments at the University of South Alabama’s intramural fields, interest “has exploded.” Eventually it outgrew the university’s facilities and the organization set up temporary courts in Gulf Shores before working with the owners of the former Tropics restaurant on the Causeway in Spanish Fort on developing a facility there.
After investing about $100,000 on six courts at Tropics the organization thrived, Hawkins said. But three years in, Tropics’ owners “began seeking a way to get out of the restaurant business and lease it to someone else,” he said.
The restaurant closed last year, but recent posts on its Facebook page indicate it will reopen in mid-May, rebranded as El Kamino Bay and featuring the “Sports on Sand (SOS) League,” offering beach volleyball, soccer and corn hole.
But Hawkins said Mobile Volleyball LLC maintains a “strong network of coaches” and enjoys the support of national organizations including the Association of Volleyball Professionals that have committed to co-sponsoring national events. He also said the organization award five scholarships to participants this year.
Using comparison data from the Foley Sports Complex, Hawkins said economic impact studies indicated a facility the size of what Mobile Volleyball is proposing would drive about $1.5 million in tax revenues per year at the lowest estimates. During one recent event Mobile Volleyball hosted in Foley, participants traveled from as far as Tallahassee, Florida and Dallas, Texas.
“We have this exploding sport, but really no public infrastructure to support it, and really no private clubs to support it,” Hawkins said. “So when you look at that, there is a giant need the community is not filling.”
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