Despite city staff recommending its denial, the Fairhope Planning Commission recommended to approve a nonconforming site plan for phase two of a mixed-use development downtown.
One building of the Portico development in Fairhope’s central business district has already been constructed and currently has commercial tenants including a bank and poke restaurant. The original “multiple occupancy project,” approved in 2017, proposed a total of seven two-story buildings on a 3.5-acre site on the corner of Fairhope Avenue and Brown Street, with 33 residential units and 23 commercial units.
The new site plan (illustrated above) puts more emphasis on the residential space, proposing 12 cottages, four townhomes and two three-story buildings, each with eight “flats” and two commercial units.
City Planning Technician Mike Jeffries told the commission the site is zoned B-2 and the new plan eliminates open green space to accommodate the cottages and to allow the townhomes, parking was eliminated. The new plan has 34 percent more residential space, but 15 percent less commercial space than the original. Zoning regulations only require 32 parking spaces on the site, but developers are offering more than 100.
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Planning and Zoning Manager Hunter Simmons said the property owner and developer, Chris Haley, presented the plan to staff earlier this year and “our gut reaction was this is a nice development.”
“This plan was laid out in front of us and … we thought it was a great plan,” Simmons said. “Then as we dived deeper into our review, there are a few things our zoning code and comprehensive plan refers to, but doesn’t explicitly state. So by that I mean we’re now in a subjective environment. Without the institutional knowledge of how things evolved and our goals, I started questioning what is residential in the CBD, especially ground floor appropriate. That is at the core of our denial.”
Generally, Simmons said, the comprehensive plan calls for commercial space on the ground floor of mixed use developments in the CBD, but he acknowledged “there may be a solution.”
Engineer Chris Lieb, working on behalf of the applicant, admitted it was “dense” residential development in the central business district, but argued the transition between commercial space on Fairhope Avenue and residential space along Brown Street provided continuity. To appease the commission, he said the applicant would agree to omit any restrictive covenants in the development prohibiting commercial use of the residential properties.
“We could label these cottages as live/work environment where if someone wanted to use one of those cottages in an office manner, we would not prohibit that,” he said.
The Commission recommended the approval of the application to the City Council by a vote of 6-1, with Commissioner Clarice Hall-Black opposing. The City Council will take up the case in the coming weeks.
Another major change on the Planning Commission’s agenda this week was the proposed Laurelbrooke village subdivision on State Route 181 south of County Road 32. While the 59-acre property is outside the city limits, it remains within its extraterritorial planning jurisdiction. As recently as June, the commission unanimously denied the subdivision, where applicant 68 Ventures was proposing 176 lots.
Staff noted the original plan called for a density of 2.95 units per acre where the city’s subdivision regulations recommended a density of 1.47 units per acre, or a total of 100 lots.
Last week, the applicant returned with a 100-lot plan, including ample greenspace and common areas and a number of amenities. The Commission approved unanimously but added 10 conditions to “memorialize” restrictions.
USE THE SLIDER TO SEE CHANGES
Separately, the commission also approved the preliminary plat for the 41-lot Parkstone Subdivision on the north side of Parker Road just east of U.S. Route 98; the 35-unit Park Place multiple occupancy project on Greeno Road across the street from the municipal pool and recreation center and the 38-lot final plat of Battles Trace Phase 7, a residential development on property owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama just north of County Road 34.
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