Daphne City Councilman Joe Davis III resigned on Monday following the City Council’s 4-3 rejection of the pre-zoning and annexation of a parcel of land connected to the proposed Daphne Innovation and Science Complex (DISC).
If approved, the vote would have annexed 75 acres of land at the southwest corner of the intersection of Champions Way and State Highway 181 into the city to make way for its first phase.
The Industrial Development Board (IDB) and the city planned to use $426,768.26 in early unused BP funds for an initial 30-acre purchase for the project. The IDB would have paid $325,231.74 from its account for the rest of the initial $725,000 purchase. Infrastructure costs were projected to be $1,693,166.95. A previous Lagniappe report provided additional information gathered from Mayor Dane Haygood’s emails related to the project.
Councilmen Randy Fry, Pat Rudicell and John Lake joined Council President Tommie Conaway in voting against the measure, while Councilmen Ron Scott, Robin LeJeune and Davis voted for it. The council had planned to vote on the measure at its previous meeting, but postponed the vote until Monday night.
Davis was appointed to represent District 7 on the City Council in 2013 when Haygood vacated the position, having been appointed mayor following the death of former mayor Bailey Yelding.
Davis was the City Council’s IDB liaison and a vocal proponent of the DISC project. He said the project, which promised to bring “Class A” office space and white collar jobs to Daphne, would have been a positive for the city.
“This was the most pivotal vote the city has had in a long time and I think the vote of some council members was very short sighted,” Davis said. “I think some people on the council had only their re-election in mind when they cast a vote.”
Davis said the IDB’s push for the project — and the push back from some on the council — caused divisions he did not think could be repaired. In the months preceding the vote, some on the council had questioned how the project would be funded, while strong opponents Lake and Rudicell called it “corporate welfare” and questioned the IDB’s motives in pursuing the project.
“After that I don’t have any credibility with them, and they don’t have any credibility with me,” he said. “I wish the city very well, but this was very disappointing. It is time for me to move on.”
Davis said he believed he was appointed in 2013 largely because of his experience serving on industrial development boards and in the business community. In February 2014, the City Council approved an increase to its lodging tax and a reallocation of lodging tax funds for recreation projects. Included in the vote was an increase in lodging tax funds allocated to the IDB.
Davis said at the time he thought the lodging tax reallocation was a signal the city was ready to let the IDB become “viable.”
“I thought we were ready to attract some real opportunities to the city, but the council didn’t see the big picture,” he said.
The city will have 60 days to fill the District 7 vacancy. If it has not filled the vacancy after 60 days, it will be up to Gov. Robert Bentley to make the appointment. Fry said the city will advertise the job opening this week and anyone interested can submit a resume through the city clerk’s office at Daphne City Hall.
Fry said his “no” vote was due to several reasons, including the nature of the DISC Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning designation, which is something he said the City Council does not have much experience with.
“There is just too much flexibility in the PUD, and that is one of the unknowns out there,” Fry said. “I’m a business person and I’m usually pro-business in my voting, but sometimes when you don’t have all the information in a deal it is best to walk away.”
He also said he still had questions about how the project would be financed and about the “hard sell” from Davis, the IDB and Haygood.
“There are some very good people on the IDB and in the planning department, this vote was not personal for me in any way,” Fry said.
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