The Fairhope Planning Commission denied a controversial plan to construct apartments in the Fly Creek watershed last night, acting on the recommendations of staff who endorsed a third party engineer’s concerns about drainage inconsistencies.
Until last night, the Commission and the Fairhope City Council approved every application for the apartments presented to them, a contentious plan years in the making many believe led to the ousting of four-term Mayor Tim Kant in municipal elections in August. The project is also the subject of an ongoing lawsuit in Baldwin County Circuit Court.
Fairhope Planning Director Jonathan Smith told the Commission the planning staff had an issue of “major concern,” based on a report from a third party engineer who noted final plans and calculations for drainage on the project varied from the PUD ordinance adopted by the City Council in April.
He admitted it was a “late in the game kind of thing.”
After Smith’s recommendation, the Commission voted 4-2 to deny the application. Kevin Boone and George Roberds voted in favor of it.
Stewart Speed, president of developer Leaf River Group, expressed displeasure about not being allowed to comment on the drainage inconsistencies prior to the vote, but said he wanted the record to reflect “that all the engineers who looked at this said it works.” The developers must wait six months before submitting amendments to the PUD for inspection.
Previously, residents along Fly Creek filed a separate lawsuit over drainage at the site and sedimentation in the creek they claimed was caused by the construction of a shopping center anchored by Publix. Parties in that lawsuit reached a confidential settlement in 2013.
Meanwhile, the current proposal often drew hundreds of opponents at public meetings, many of whom complained about increased traffic, decreased property values and negative environmental effects. However, similarly sized projects on last night’s agenda, including a 110-unit condo project on South Section Street and a 208-lot single family subdivision on State Highway 104 drew comparatively little opposition. Both were approved by the commission.
Mayor-elect Karin Wilson broke protocol several times during the meeting to interject her own concerns about development in and around the city, which is one of the fastest growing in the state.
“We can no longer make decisions on individual developments because we don’t understand where we are right now,” she said. “And we have to know that a comprehensive plan, before we go forward with any high-density development … these decisions are critical and we are at a point of no return.”