The Daphne City Council was prepared Tuesday to vote on an ordinance to pre-zone a 75-acre parcel of land near Daphne High School to make way for the proposed Daphne Innovation and Science Complex (DISC), but a pair of amendments changed the ordinance enough that councilors decided to table the vote until the council’s Sept. 21 meeting.
One amendment offered by Councilman Robin LeJeune changed the project’s specified building height from seven stories or 110 feet down to five stories or 80 feet. A second amendment followed a suggestion by Mayor Dane Haygood to require a 200-foot setback for the project’s larger buildings instead of a 40-foot setback and urges developers to use low impact development practices at the complex.
Haygood said his proposed changes came out of discussions with people who live on Champions Way as well as community meetings with residents in the Lake Forest, Sehoy, Canterbury Place, Tiawasee and Bristol Creek neighborhoods.
City Attorney Jay Ross said the changes were legal but suggested the council delay a vote until the next meeting because the changes significantly impacted the ordinance in question. Councilman Ron Scott motioned tabling the ordinance as a first read, and the council voted 5-2 in support.
“I would hope that within the next few weeks we would continue to talk to people and they will look at the changes brought forward,” Scott said. “I do think this is a wise course of action.”
Councilman John Lake said he was blindsided by the mayor’s changes, suggesting the last-second move was representative of the way previous DISC related issues had been handled.
While he supported the passage of the amendments because they are less intense for residents, Councilman Ron Scott said he was surprised the council did not receive notice of the proposed changes prior to the meeting.
“As important as this project is and as much interest as there has been about it in the community, for the council to be given these changes at the last minute is wrong,” Scott said. “I didn’t get one telephone call from anybody. We are expected to vote on this and I don’t think that’s the way business ought to go.”
The amendments were added to the ordinance with a 4-3 vote. Councilmen Joe Davis, Scott, LeJeune and Randy Fry voted for it, while Lake, Pat Rudicell and Council President Tommie Conaway voted against.
Haygood told the council he takes full responsibility for the way the changes were presented at the meeting. He said he did not expect a motion to amend to be made before he had a chance to present his proposed changes to the council.
“(The changes) were designed to help protect residents through a series of dialogue we had,” Haygood said. “I had a chance at the end of last week to review my notes from the community meetings and to think long and hard about what we can do to protect the residents that have expressed concerns.”
The mayor continued, saying a lack of communication is partially caused by the state’s Open Meetings Act, which bans meetings of two or more public officials without public notice.
“Those are the rules we have and they are there for a good reason, to make sure deliberations are done in the open,” Haygood said. “I hope we can have more productive conversations in open meetings with the public so we can all learn about it and talk about it together. And so people know we truly deliberate in an open manner.”
The parcel is located at the southwest corner of the intersection of State Highway 181 and Champions Way in Baldwin County’s District 15 and zoned RSF-1, for single family residential use. The proposed pre-zoning would change the property to planned unit development (PUD) zoning, in which the city and applicant can negotiate the zoning requirements.
According to the Code of Alabama, pre-zoning is allowed when a municipality exercises its right to zone territory currently outside of its corporate limits ahead of a planned annexation vote. The zoning becomes official after an affirmative annexation vote takes place. If the annexation fails, the zoning will be voided.
If the pre-zoning or annexation vote fails, the applicant must wait one year to resubmit the same request.
A letter dated Aug. 17, signed by attorney J. Bradford Boyd Hicks from Stone, Granade and Crosby PC, stated the applicant’s intent not to seek annexation of the property if the pre-zoning attempt fails. The applicant, Fairhope-based The Bills No. 2 LLC, has sought to sell the property to the city’s Industrial Development Board (IDB) following the zoning and annexation.