After receiving a use variance from the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, an approval of his site plan from the city’s Planning Commission and resolving concerns and suggestions from neighboring property owners, Matt Bowers’ application to construct a three-story boutique hotel in downtown Fairhope would have likely been approved by the City Council last week had it not been for one key complication.
There’s a clock there.
Claiming their inboxes had suddenly been flooded with emails in opposition to the application, the council voted to table the proposal last week to discuss the feasibility of a property swap with Bowers. At issue is a small courtyard owned by the city on Section Street, which currently has an unobstructed view of Fairhope Avenue and the city’s landmark clock.
If Bowers’ application is approved as proposed, resident Diane Thomas expressed to the Council last week, the hotel’s inverse “L” footprint on the property would reduce the courtyard to “an entrance to the hotel,” blocking the view of the clock and beloved events such as parades, the Lighting of the Trees and the Witches Ride.
“That public space will pretty much disappear,” Thomas said.
But Bowers said although several people had mentioned the possibility of a property swap throughout his application process, no one from the city ever reached out to him with so much as an inquiry, much less a formal proposal. Changing the footprint of the hotel would also have financial repercussions, he insinuated, because some guest rooms would not have windows and the proposed retail space on the first floor would not be as visible.
In a futile attempt to encourage the Council to vote on the application last week, Bowers said he just wanted to be treated “fairly.” Architect Clay Adams, who designed several concepts for the hotel and has completed several similar projects in the downtown area, also suggested the opportunity for negotiation had passed.
“Matt has done everything the city has asked in each of the steps, and he wants to make a building he’s proud of. We’ve had eight months and 12 meetings the city required us to have,” Adams said.
But the council suggested concerns by residents, the logistics of construction on the corner and other questions about minor details were enough to put the project on hold. So now, attorneys are talking it over.
“I’ve just spoken with the city attorney, Marcus McDowell, to discuss the options,” attorney Warren Butler, who represents Bowers, told Lagniappe on Monday. “We certainly wish it had been proposed earlier in the process, before he got everything in front of the Planning Commission and spent so much time and money getting a beautiful building approved.”
Butler said before his client would entertain negotiations on the proposed property swap, he was seeking assurances from the city that fees associated with a new site plan and other related expenses would be waived or compensated.
“That’s part of the negotiations,” he said. “We don’t want to have to go through the approval process again. It’s too time consuming and costly. We’re trying to avoid litigation, but we’re prepared if necessary to pursue whatever legal remedies are available.”
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