In an unusual call to action in Fairhope’s Council chambers last week, Corey Martin pleaded with the City Council to reelvaluate a proposed property purchase in the city’s historically black neighborhood.
“Gentrify that area,” Martin said, noting some of the city’s earliest settlers were black but at some point in Fairhope’s history, a “disconnect” was formed between the Young Street and Twin Beech Road area and the more affluent, overwhelmingly white neighborhoods of town.
“You have an opportunity to put people together again, the way it was,” he said. “Bring the property value back to [what] those people used to have and allow them to be part of this community.”
Earlier this year, the Council agreed to enter into a purchase agreement for 40 acres of vacant property just south of Twin Beech Road to construct future sports facilities. But allegedly, the seller refused to lower the asking price, which is “35 to 40 percent” above an appraisal completed in January, according to the Council. The appraisal valued the Twin Beech property at just over $1.4 million, or about $35,000 per acre.
Instead, the Council voted to approve an appraisal on a separate piece of property — about four miles southeast, near the corner of County roads 32 and 13 — to be used for the same purpose. The difference in the list price of the two properties is about $700,000, city officials said.
Property records indicate the Twin Beech property was owned for years by Fairhope resident Irma Powe, but in 2017 it was transferred to the Irma Powe Revocable Trust in the name of Roger Powe, listing an address in Virginia.
The two alternate, adjacent parcels currently being appraised by the City Council are owned by the Fairhope Airport Authority and McKenzie Properties of Alabama, a Fairhope-based property owner. Recreation Board Chairman Bob Keyser told Lagniappe this week that both properties have been on the city’s radar for “some time,” and without considering the cost, the board ultimately recommended the less-expensive option south of town.
“We don’t have nearly enough space to support all the rec programs we have now,” Keyser said, explaining how the youth baseball program has outgrown Volanta Park and how the city’s softball, soccer, flag football and lacrosse programs compete for practice and game time. “What we’ve been looking at is we have to have space now and as the city continues to grow, we’ll need more space.”
Keyser said based on complaints from neighbors around the new soccer complex on Manley Road about traffic, noise and lighting, the board recommended the property on County Road 32 because it is farther from residential development. The Twin Beech Road community, the board suggested to the Council April 22, could better be served by a five-acre park with a playground and facilities similar to Fairhoper’s Community Park downtown.
“What people don’t want around their immediate neighborhood is a ball field complex — they want a community park,” Keyser said, admitting the board reached its recommendation based on feedback from the Manley Road community, not through discussions with the Twin Beech neighborhood.
“Our thought is, [the city is] expanding to the east and south, so let’s look at land that’s not immediately adjacent to an established neighborhood.” Consequently, he said “it also makes it less expensive.”
But Martin and others — including Mayor Karin Wilson — argue the benefits of city-owned property and a sports facility in the Twin Beech neighborhood would far outweigh the additional expense. Over the weekend, two teenagers were arrested after a third teen was injured in a shooting on Young Street.
Barbara Davis said investment around Twin Beech Road could be “transformative” for the neighborhood.
“I believe there is more to this than dollars and cents,” she told the Council, urging them to “think more about the human cost and the human benefit. The city has wonderful sports programs for all of our children, but we know few African-Americans participate. One reason is the lack of access.”
Davis explained the benefits of providing sports facilities in underserved areas and said the property on Twin Beech Road is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity … if we fail to claim this property now … the owner will likely sell it for another housing development.”
Wilson said the Twin Beech property would provide better connectivity with the city’s corporate limits and could encourage annexation of the Young Street corridor and newer subdivisions adjacent to the property. Further, she said, her plan would use no taxpayer money but rather would pay out installments from the city’s collection of impact fees.
With the Council now exploring other options, Wilson is hopeful the city can still pursue a deal for the Twin Beech property, even if it means seeking outside help. Late last week, philanthropist Louis Mapp told Lagniappe he was willing to donate $100,000 to the city to bring recreational facilities to the underserved community.
“I can understand the appraisal process and I know the Council has to spend money wisely, but this is personal,” Mapp said. “My wife and I have a lot of friends in that area and it would be wonderful to have some kind of recreational facility … I can’t speak to the specifics, but any time you can provide activities for the youth, it’s a good thing. It keeps them busy, it’s a great outlet, they learn teamwork and particularly if it’s somewhere they can get to easily — transportation may be a problem sometimes.”
Louis and Melinda Mapp’s Mapp Family Foundation has awarded more than 600 grants since its inception 15 years ago, including nearly $700,000 to social and animal nonprofits last year. Wilson said she was surprised and thrilled by Mapp’s pledge and believes a broader crowdfunding campaign may close the $700,000 gap and may ultimately help entice the Council to purchase the Twin Beech property.
“We [made the pledge] in the hopes it would jumpstart the effort to raise the difference so they could get that money,” Mapp said. “At $700,000 it won’t be easy, but sometimes things aren’t easy. I would rather give it a try, or else we would never forgive ourselves.”
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