Plans to develop the hotly debated Daphne Innovation and Science Complex (DISC) at the southwest corner of State Highway 181 and Champions Way near Daphne High School may have been delayed by City Council votes in 2015, but they are still in the works.
After initially rejecting the proposed technology park last September, the Daphne City Council voted 4-3 to approve a modified version of the project in December. The vote gave the city’s Industrial Development Board permission to use $426,000 in early BP restoration funds to purchase the 30-acre parcel from The Bills LLC No. 2, a company with a Fairhope address registered to Michael C. Bill.
The IDB planned to close on the purchase at the end of December last year, but after the modification it was given an extension on the purchase through this summer. The new version of the project will be zoned B-3 instead of a Planned Unit Development, along with a few other modifications officials believe nearby residents will find amicable.
Mayor Dane Haygood said the council will hold a public hearing for the B-3 pre-zoning of the property at its March 7 meeting. The zoning request received a unanimous favorable recommendation from the Daphne Planning Commission. Haygood said the council could take action on the pre-zoning at its meeting on March 21.
The mayor said other steps — approving a subdivision plan and annexation into the city — will also have to occur before the BP funds will be released for the land purchase. The council will likely take action on those motions in the spring, with a targeted June or July purchase date.
“Right now it is a little complex,” Haygood said. “We don’t have a firm date for the purchase because we have to get through these council actions before the funds will become available. We hope it happens before August.”
Daphne City Councilwoman Angie Phillips, the council’s IDB liaison, said engineering firm Preble-Rish will subdivide the property.
“We are going through all the proper steps for zoning and annexing the property into the city,” Phillips said. “According to what the council approved in December, the zoning and annexation have to happen before the money can be allocated.”
While DISC was heavily debated at a handful of City Council meetings in 2015, Daphne Business Park owner Joe Johnson said the first he heard about DISC was two weeks before the council’s initial vote, when it rejected a zoning request that would have paved the way for the park.
Johnson said he became concerned after reading media reports in which city officials lamented there was no available space for a technology business park like DISC in the city. The Daphne Business Park is located on Stanton Road and Profit Drive.
Johnson said the first phase of the Daphne Business Park opened approximately 12 years ago and a second phase was developed four years ago. The site is zoned C-1, which Johnson said will accommodate all business types. Today the business park is home to homebuilder D.R. Horton, an automobile parts distributor, a lumber brokerage company and a paint manufacturer.
Johnson said there are 16 or 17 available lots, ranging from one-half acre to 13 acres of land. The park is 60 acres total with approximately 30 acres available for development.
“They were saying there isn’t anywhere to put a business park, but it is right here in Daphne already,” Johnson said. “My question is, why are you telling people the space isn’t here when there is a perfectly good business park already available in the city?”
Johnson said the Daphne Business Park already has gas, sewer and water service and high-speed internet is available. He said to his knowledge no one from the city has contacted him about locating the DISC project at the Daphne Business Park.
“I have no idea why they didn’t contact me,” Johnson said. “They wouldn’t have to really develop anything, because the infrastructure is already in place, and they wouldn’t have to use BP funds for it. They could spend that money on something else the city needs.”
According to Johnson, the city’s planned use of BP funds and tax credits for incoming DISC businesses will put private enterprises like his at a competitive disadvantage.
“It will definitely make it harder for me to rent those parcels,” Johnson said. “I would have to take a million-dollar hit in order to compete.”
Haygood said the city needs to do a better job promoting places like the Daphne Business Park but the DISC location was chosen because of its proximity to Interstate 10 and Daphne High School, where the mayor hopes to form a post-secondary education partnership. The IDB hopes to attract high-paying, white-collar jobs to the city at DISC.
“The Daphne Business Park was worthy of consideration, but it was not necessarily conducive to access to I-10 like we wanted for DISC,” Haygood said. “The other issue was we also wanted something with enough room to develop in a campus style. The Daphne Business Park is a great site, but it just wasn’t what we were looking for for DISC.”
Phillips, who was appointed to the District 7 seat when former Councilman Joe Davis III resigned after the City Council’s initial rejection of the project, said while she was not a member at the time, the IDB did consider other locations for DISC. However, she said, most of the locations the IDB looked at were out of its price range.
“It is my understanding that other locations the IDB looked at, including some on 98, were cost prohibitive,” Phillips said. “The allure of the Champions Way location is its proximity to I-10. The IDB also wanted to be able to develop DISC with a campus style and Daphne High School was excited about the location because it will give us the opportunity to partner with the school for projects.”
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