BY ERIC MANN
A lawsuit against the city of Fairhope that was conditionally settled on the eve of trial last week hints at infighting and maneuvering within a prominent Baldwin County political family.
The lawsuit, filed in November 2014 by attorney Dan Blackburn on behalf of Doris Faust Callies, William Callies III and Michael E. and Leslie C. Hollis, sought damages after the Fairhope Planning Commission voted unanimously Nov. 3, 2014, to deny a subdivision approval the family claims had already been approved by the city in 1999.
The suit alleged deliberate actions by the city and the Planning Commission prevented Doris Faust Callies and Michael and Leslie Hollis from selling lots on Beecher Street in 2014. According to court documents, the Hollis family attempted to sell their home for $303,721 and Callies tried to sell six lots for $225,000. Both sales fell through after the denial.
Court records show the parties agreed Jan. 9 to the consideration by the Planning Commission of a four-lot subdivision on Callies’ property at the southernmost end of Beecher Street.
Asked to comment, Blackburn said if conditions are met, a third party will purchase the Callies’ home and property. According to Blackburn, the purchase price would be approximately $395,000. The parties will meet again for further discussion, but Blackburn said if the conditions are not met the case will likely return to litigation. It was initially set for a jury trial at the end of this month, but after the agreement, Baldwin County Judge Scott Taylor said the court will set a new trial date if the parties cannot consummate the settlement.
Fairhope Mayor Tim Kant declined to comment on the specifics of the conditional settlement.
The original complaint claims the Planning Commission, formally or informally, approved the eight-lot subdivision knowing Callies wanted to subdivide the lot among family, even though the city did not record “family subdivisions” at the time.
While the details about the proposed settlement remain confidential, court records indicate the late William J. Callies Jr., husband of plaintiff Doris Faust Callies, petitioned the Fairhope Planning Commission for approval of an eight-lot residential subdivision on approximately four acres south of Fairhope Avenue near Baldwin County 13, within the Fairhope corporate limits, in 1999.
In June 1999, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the rezoning request from “rural agricultural” to “single-family residential.” Approved meeting minutes note Callies planned to divide the land for his children and the rezoning was required to obtain building permits for the lots.
Later in 1999, the Callies family constructed a single-family residence on one of the lots, which served as the primary residence for plaintiffs Michael and Leslie Hollis.
In spring 2014, the Hollises attempted to sell their home, but discovered there was no recorded plat for the “Callies Family Subdivision,” also known as “Callies Court,” in the Baldwin County Probate Court. Yet on June 19, 2014, following a recommendation by the Fairhope Planning Commission, a re-plat of the subdivision was recorded at the probate office.
Two months later, Doris Faust Callies attempted to sell lots in Callies Court, but the city claimed she couldn’t because the lots had not received “formal approval” by the Planning Commission. According to court documents, the plaintiffs agreed to submit the subdivision plans to the Planning Commission again, expecting to settle the issue. Callies then entered into two contracts to sell six lots to ARK Builders, and Michael and Leslie Hollis entered into a contract to sell their home.
Ultimately, the Planning Commission unanimously denied the subdivision application at its Nov. 3, 2014, meeting. According to approved minutes from the meeting and depositions filed in the case, Beecher Street property is generally owned by descendants of the prominent Faust political family, and the case may have been the result of family infighting over the rezoning request.
Public records indicate Doris Callies’ brother, former Baldwin County Commissioner and current State Rep. Joe Faust, lives on Beecher Street and owns property alongside other members of the family, including his brother “Tommy” Faust — Kant’s 2016 mayoral campaign chairman — and Bobby Faust, a Kant campaign donor. Planning Commission minutes from the denial in 2014 recorded Joe Faust as claiming the property “has caused controversy since 1960” and said he didn’t want eight new houses and additional traffic on Beecher Street. He also suggested adding an entrance to the new lots from Morphy Avenue, rather than Fairhope Avenue.
Joe’s brother, Bobby, told the commission he wasn’t against the subdivision, but didn’t want the property to be accessed through Beecher Street. He also agreed the new lots should be accessed via Morphy.
Thomas Faust told the commission he didn’t want additional traffic on Beecher Street and provided a petition against the rezoning signed by other Beecher Street homeowners.
Joe Faust is also the father of Baldwin County Revenue Commissioner Teddy Faust, but Teddy is not named in the lawsuit or any of the evidence pertaining to the case.
This week Mayor Kant, who also sits on the Planning Commission, denied that political considerations played a role in the case. But in his Oct. 30, 2015, deposition, Kant was asked about a loan for an unspecified amount to himself from Bobby Faust. In the deposition, Kant responded he does not have written communication pertaining to it, but there is a promissory note related to the loan.
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
(Above) A motion for summary judgment filed Jan. 8 in the case of Callies vs. the city of Fairhope includes depositions of Mayor Kant and Planning Director Jonathan Smith, who apparently approved a subdivision application before it was eventually denied by the Planning Commission.
“This is just a regular case about a subdivision,” Kant said this week. “I really can’t comment on any specifics at this time.”
Separately, according to campaign finance reports, Bobby Faust contributed $500 to Kant’s campaign in Aug. 31, 2015, during a campaign cycle in which Kant is facing no challengers.
Current City Council president Jack Burrell sat on the Planning Commission at the time of the denial and the minutes show he expressed concerns about the number of waivers the applicant requested. He also said there was no paperwork to support the applicant’s claim that the subdivision was approved in 1999.
In his deposition, Kant said he had at least two meetings with Leslie Hollis, including one attended by State Rep. Joe Faust. In the deposition, Kant recalled Hollis sought his help in resolving the issue so she could sell her property.
Kant said he asked Planning Director Jonathan Smith to review the documentation and see what needed to be done to resolve the issue. Referring to a June 2014 letter from Smith to himself, Kant said he signed a memo with a note reading “OK,” saying the Callies could move forward with their access and plan.
Rep. Faust did not return calls seeking comment for this story. Lagniappe will provide more information as it develops.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated to correct a misidentification of Fairhope Mayor Tim Kant’s campaign chairman. Tommy Faust Sr. is Rep. Joe Faust’s brother and Kant’s campaign chairman. Tommy Faust Jr., the legislator’s nephew, is not involved with the Kant campaign, and told Lagniappe Kant campaign documents erroneously listed “Thomas B. Faust” as campaign chairman.