Taking a step back from a plan it has promoted, held public hearings on and amended for more than a year, the Fairhope Planning Commission on Monday voted to deny the contentious Greeno Road Corridor Overlay District. The district, which sought to protect certain aesthetics of development along the city’s most heavily trafficked corridor, was pitched as a zoning amendment, not a new zoning ordinance.
But dozens of property owners and residents who would have been subjected to the plan never quite understood it. And as recently as Jan. 29, substantial changes were unveiled while opponents complained many details remained unclear. Others feared it would open the door to form-based code citywide that was neither necessary nor widely desired.
Cecil Christenberry, a member of the Baldwin County School Board who also owns Greeno Road’s Old Tyme Feed & Garden Supply, said the entire process was flawed.
“No one I could find along the entire corridor was ever notified, consulted, ever contacted at all,” at the beginning of the process more than 18 months ago, he said. “Greeno Road has and continues to have very strict zoning ordinances for quite a few years and there have been some things that have developed over the past few years that have been very tasteful.”
Christenberry noted a development moratorium expires on May 31, but cautioned the commission about passing proposals before they were even defined. He also suggested a recent movement of residents in the Barnwell community to the south of Fairhope, which seeks to create a 44-square-mile historic district, is directly related to their interest in preserving property rights the city may one day change in a manner similar to the overlay district.
Larry Stejskal, who lives within the proposed district on Ingleside Drive, said the city shouldn’t try to fix something that wasn’t broken.
“I don’t know what you all see is wrong, Greeno is doing just fine,” he said. “What you all are trying to do with this program is a taking of our property rights. It is a restricting of what we can do with the property that is left, and it is just flat wrong.”
His comments didn’t sit well with Commissioner Art Dyas, who asked Stejskal to return to the podium after public comments were closed so he could grill him about his understanding of the final, 11-page proposal. It had been whittled down from a 44-page document initially proposed in 2018.
Intermittently interrupting Stejskal to get input from Planning & Zoning Manager Hunter Simmons, Dyas said, “I’m confused why you people think this Greeno Road Corridor Overlay District is going to radically keep you from using your property … what do you see that I don’t understand?”
Using the oft-repeated explanation the underlying zoning of the district would not be altered and anyone who wanted to seek a zoning change still could, Dyas argued without the overlay district’s guidance, out-of-town developers could purchase property and develop it as they see fit.
But Stejskal didn’t bend.
“If your zoning rules are in place and in effect and are going to be enforced, why are you putting in place another burden that is not needed?” he asked. “It is not my obligation as a private property owner to provide the city with a parkway entrance. If you want it, buy it. Do not confiscate it. That’s what this is all about. This is not fair, it is not reasonable, it is discriminatory. You have zoning in place, all you have to do is enforce it.”
President Lee Turner said in his time on the commission, two common refrains have been the protection of the downtown business district and Greeno Road corridor, which some people fear may be developed to the scale of Mobile’s Airport Boulevard. He said the demographics of the city are changing with new residents and apartments, drawing big-box stores and out-of-town developers.
“What we’re trying to do here is come up with something that will help in an aesthetic way, and we started pretty tight,” he said, admitting the initial plan “went overboard.” But amendments made in the months afterward scaled the plan back and actually awarded property owners new rights, he argued, adding the commission and planning staff have tried to achieve “a balance.”
But when it came time for a vote, Dyas could not secure a second on his motion to approve the corridor. City Councilman Kevin Boone broke his silence on the matter afterward to make a motion to deny the measure, one that was seconded by Commissioner Clarice Hall-Black. Ultimately, the denial was approved by a vote of 4-2, with Turner and Dyas dissenting. Although it was denied by the commission, it will still be presented to the Fairhope City Council for consideration.
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