George Spottswood said his family has always dreamed about opening a small grocery store on property near their home near Mobile Bay, on Scenic U.S. 98 in Point Clear.
Spottswood said homes converted into small grocery stores are typically found in resort areas like Point Clear, where his .478-acre parcel on Old Marlow Road could be rezoned from RSF-1 single-family residential to B-2 neighborhood business designation with approval from the County Commission.
“Owning a neighborhood grocery store has been a dream of our family’s for quite a while,” Spottswood said. “It is not uncommon in resort areas for homes to serve as neighborhood grocery stores.”
But the request is facing opposition from nearby residents as well as the Baldwin County Planning Commission, which recommended the request be denied. In opposition, Planning Director Vince Jackson said he has received many calls and emails about the request, which some opponents believe could bring undesirable businesses to the mostly residential area south of the Grand Hotel. The county’s B-2 commercial zoning is a broad designation regulating everything from small coffee shops to convenience stores and night clubs.
“Just because B-2 is there doesn’t mean all these things will just appear,” Jackson said. “Since it is in a historic district, and because of the high cost of the land in the area, those will be factors keeping some objectionable uses out. But that is a concern that remains and there are no guarantees. Once you receive the zoning designation you are allowed to do whatever it allows.”
There are three other commercially zoned properties nearby, but two of them — The Wash House Restaurant and Punta Clara Kitchen — were built before 1992, when the county extended zoning regulations to the district. Jackson said there’s been just one other commercial rezoning request in 23 years, and cited nearby vacant commercial properties in the area as an example that it may be counterproductive to rezone the property.
“The last thing [the Spottswoods] want to do is to be bad neighbors and make enemies in this beautiful community,” Spottswood attorney Randall Caldwell said. “Vacant commercial property exists everywhere and that should have no bearing on this property. It is not fair to assume because someone else failed that the Spottswoods would also fail.”
The Point Clear property is located in one of the county’s four designated historic districts, and any further development plans must be approved by the Baldwin County Architectural Preservation Review Board.
“We don’t want to do anything more than what you already see in Point Clear — restaurants, retail,” Caldwell said. “We aren’t going to do anything that will be detrimental to the area.”
The Spottswoods purchased the property in 2005, when their home across the street was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina. The family lived in the Old Marlow Road home for five years, at which point they finished reconstruction on their original house on the bay and moved back. The family still owns both properties.
Further north on the Eastern Shore, the Planning Commission gave its approval to a request from Malbis Plantation Inc. to rezone a 3.78-acre parcel from residential single family to B-2 neighborhood business at the southwest corner of U.S. Highway 90 and State Route 181, where Thomas Hospital has announced plans to construct a stand-alone emergency clinic.
Preble-Rish representative Steve Pumphrey said an adjacent parcel is already zoned B-2 and Thomas Hospital would like both zoned the same way for conformity before it begins construction of the clinic.
“This is a long-range plan and it is going to take time,” Pumphrey said. “They will build the facility on the corner first, but the buyer would like to be able to know that if they want to put a supporting facility, we feel like B-2 gives them that option. It would allow for something like a coffee shop nearby, something small that could support the clinic.”
Because of Malbis Plantation’s designation as a Baldwin County Historic District, all plans associated with the proposed clinic must be reviewed by the Architectural Preservation Review Board. According to Planner Linda Lee, the board denied a request from the applicant to demolish the men’s dormitory, a decision that has been appealed to the County Commission.
The men’s dormitory, one of 35 resources which contribute to the plantation’s historic designation, is a two-story brick building constructed in 1956 to house male members of Malbis Plantation Inc. The building displays Colonial Revival architecture and lies across S.R. 181 from another historic building called the “Big House,” which was built in 1907.
University of South Alabama Center for Archaeological Studies research associate Bonnie Gums said among the 35 contributing resources are 21 historic buildings as well as landscape features at the Malbis Plantation site that could be threatened by the potential clinic’s development.
Similar to concerns about the Spottswood rezoning request, nearby residents are concerned about what would happen if Thomas Hospital doesn’t follow through with plans to construct the emergency clinic. Malbis Lane Homeowners Association President Norman McAllister suggested a more restrictive B-1 designation for medical offices and laboratories would be more appropriate.
“I don’t have a problem with the emergency room, but we do object to B-2 for this piece of property,” Malbis Lane Homeowners Association President Norman McAllister said. “We think the hospital can do whatever they want to do with B-1, but we find some things related to B-2 are objectionable.”
Malbis Shell owner Kevin Spriggs believes an emergency clinic would be good for the area but shared McAllister’s concern about B-2 zoning.
“What if the sale doesn’t go through? Does it revert back to existing zoning or continue as a large B-2?” Spriggs asked. “Would it then be converted to something like McGowin Park? I’m for the project as long as it is executed in its approved form.”
Malbis Plantation Inc. attorney Richard Davis said Infirmary Health intends to close on the property in January.