A controversial request by property owners in Point Clear seeking to open a small grocery store in the Point Clear Historic District will come back before the Baldwin County Commission in June.
In March, George and Amy Spottswood previously asked the County Commission to consider rezoning less than a half acre of property at the northeast corner of Scenic U.S. 98 and Old Marlow Road from residential single family to B-2 commercial — a broad zoning designation regulating everything from small coffee shops to convenience stores and nightclubs. However, the request was pulled from the commission’s agenda in March when it became clear it would not pass.
Now, the Spottswoods have resubmitted the application, asking for a more restrictive zoning designation, the Limited Business District, which is more in line with small, neighborhood grocers. The commission will hold a public hearing on the request at its June 21 regular meeting in Bay Minette.
In March, the commission created the Limited Business District zoning designation in order to accommodate requests similar to the one submitted by the Spottswoods. It is intended to provide a designation for people who want to start a business without opening the door to big box stores, liquor stores and nightclubs in areas near neighborhoods and historic districts.
Planning Director Vince Jackson said the Planning Commission voted 3-2 in April to recommend approval of the resubmitted request, and planning staff also supports approval. However, he acknowledged the request remains controversial.
“This was controversial before and it remains controversial,” Jackson said. “We knew it would be. This has been a difficult case from the beginning. You always know someone’s not going to be happy with what you do, but we do feel like the LB designation can work in this location.”
George Spottswood told commissioners he believes it is his right to do what he wishes with the property he owns. He also said because he and his wife live near the subject property to be rezoned they have a stake in making sure the area keeps its historical significance.
“We take great pride in the historical significance in our area, and our house was one of four that were built in the early 1900s as Broadbeck and Zundel homes,” Spottswood said. “We’ve gone to great pains to improve upon the historical significance of our home and the area. We hope to enhance and sustain the historical significance of the area. We will promote that, because that’s our intent.”
Some nearby residents, including members of the Point Clear Property Owners Association, are concerned that if the Spottswood zoning request is granted, other property owners in the district will follow suit and change the residential nature of the area.
There has also been some debate over how many letters have been submitted in support of and in opposition to the request.
Commissioner Chris Elliott said the commission does not view its role in approving or rejecting a rezoning request as a popularity contest.
“While I appreciate the input, I am not keeping some sort of tally sheet for and against,” Elliott said. “I certainly do appreciate the input from constituents about how they think about the issues, but we need to look at the quality of their arguments, not the amount of those arguments.”
Jackson echoed Elliott’s statement, but said anyone with concerns is welcome to come to the public hearing in June.
“We welcome all comments, but we don’t view it as a popularity contest,” Jackson said. “We try to be up front about that. We do keep a count, but we are not really counting yes and no, and we have been aware from the beginning that some of the correspondence is not coming from Planning District 26 because we see the addresses. But that isn’t really necessary, because it appears that it has been pretty evenly split on both sides.”
One of the residents who has been vocal in her opposition to the request is Elizabeth Schramm, who told commissioners she is mostly concerned about the number of nearby residents who are against the change, not the total number. The Planning Commission has received letters representing both sides of the issue from inside and outside of Planning District 26.
“We aren’t really talking about numbers, we are talking about how many people who live nearby are opposed because they are the ones who will be affected the most,” Schramm said.
In a May 18 letter to Jackson and commissioners, Sarah Chapman expressed concerns about the “domino effect” she fears will occur if the commercial rezone request is granted.
“There are already vacant business properties right nearby,” Chapman’s letter reads. “Why would you add more, and risk opening the floodgates to other people trying to make that beautiful stretch of historic homes into a commercial corridor? I know each application needs to be considered individually, and I understand that a switch to B2 zoning has already been denied, but a LB designation serves the same purpose — and I feel very strongly that we need to protect that area from further encroachment.”
In support, Lakewood Subdivision resident Doug Terreson said the commercial rezone appears to be the best use for the Spottswood property, which he drives by every day to and from work.
“A higher-quality food store fills an important niche for residents in this area, as none exists today,” Terreson said. “When considering the significant need for the commercial purpose indicated by the Spottswoods, that the proposed business would be highly complementary to existing businesses, and that this property has served substantially more time in commercial than in residential use; we strongly support this rezoning request.”