A proposed overlay district along Greeno Road in Fairhope will place stringent restrictions on properties along a nearly 7-mile stretch of the city’s most heavily trafficked corridor, according to a review of an amendment currently under consideration by the Fairhope Planning Commission.
Property owners Bobby and Debra Green, whose family has owned and operated Green Nurseries about a half-mile south of Volanta Park since the 1930s, are raising red flags over the city’s lack of notification to roughly 400 affected property owners.
The Greens liken the proposal to eminent domain and inverse condemnation, claiming if approved, it will cut the value of their property in half, effectively limiting its development potential and economic viability. Further, they claim the overlay district is politically motivated retaliation after development plans for their property changed after it was rezoned last year.
Originally zoned residential, the Green Nursery property received a B-2 zoning designation from the city in early 2018, after receiving dozens of building permits over the decades and becoming the subject of a mixed-use development proposed by the Greens in late 2017, Debra explained this week.
But plans for the development, which included a greenhouse, garden center, small stores, a coffee shop and restaurants, fell through after investors backed off, she said. Subsequently, they put the nearly 3-acre property up for sale, with an asking price of $2.9 million.
“We notified the city our [development] did not work out as planned … but we didn’t hear a word back from them,” Debra said, noting they live immediately adjacent to the property and are interested in preserving its attractiveness and marketability. “The city got all worked up and imposed a moratorium, so that’s where we are.”
Indeed, on Dec. 20, 2018, the City Council unanimously adopted a moratorium on rezoning applications, site plan applications and multiple occupancy project applications along Greeno Road, “to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the people relating to development.” The moratorium is set to expire 270 days after passage, or Sept. 16.
At the time, then-Planning Director Wayne Dyess explained the moratorium was imposed to review feedback from citizens on a survey, indicating their preference for certain lighting, landscaping and facades along the corridor. But he also suggested the review would lead to “recommendations for changes to the council,” ideally, “much quicker than the 270 days” before the moratorium expired.
Dyess since left the city to take the position of county administrator in Bay Minette and the recommended changes are now outlined in the proposed overlay district, which has since been championed by his interim successor Buford King. In the past several Planning Commission meetings, King has discussed draft plans for the district for the commission’s approval, noting there is still no map of its boundaries. According to a planning department staff member, the department also does not have a list of the affected property owners.
But the plan so far is this: If you own property within 400 feet of the centerline of Greeno Road anywhere between Dale Drive at the border with Daphne and Old Battles Road to the south, that property will be restricted by one of five development districts in the overlay.
The “Northern Edge District” between Dale Drive and South Drive prohibits drive-throughs for all uses, stand-alone ice machines, ATMs and car washes; hotels and motels would be limited to 30 rooms; bed-and-breakfasts are allowable, but limited to 12 rooms and must be owner-occupied and -operated; auto service stations, convenience stores and auto repair facilities are allowable, but there are new restrictions on lighting, signage and requirements to place fuel pumps behind the building.
The “North Village Center District” between South Drive and State Route 104 “comptemplates retrofitting existing traditional shopping centers” but also prohibits drive-throughs, ATMs, car washes and quick-serve restaurants with no table service. It also prohibits food trucks, single-use buildings, automobile repair and service stations and convenience stores. “All ground retail and commercial restaurants in mixed-use facilities will be limited to 8,000 square feet and grocery, general merchandise and shopping centers will be limited to 8,000 square feet per tenant.”
“The Gateway District,” from State Route 104 to Edwards Avenue, which includes the Green’s property, is “probably the most stringent of overlay districts,” King told the Planning Commission last week. Along with the restrictions of the previous two districts, it also limits B&Bs to six rooms, with the same requirements for owner occupancy and operation. Further, it limits two-family and townhouse developments to two stories.
The remaining two districts, the “Fairhope Avenue Village Center District” and the “Southern Edge District,” either mirror the North Village Center District or in the case of the latter, becomes much less restrictive.
While the proposed districts do not specify restrictions on residential lots, the amendment also requires “mandatory site plan reviews for all construction activities within the [corridor]” and allows “certain specified uses only upon appeal to the Board of Adjustment and/or subject to special conditions.”
Debra Green interprets it thusly:
“Not only does this encompass our business property, but the city now has complete control of our residence, our home, our personal property, everything we own. My husband, who is a professional landscape designer and grower of camellias, cannot even create a new flower bed, cut down a tree in our yard, enclose a garage, anything, without going to Planning Department and paying $1,000 to get permission to get a building permit. Even to put a roof on your house. That’s how restrictive this is.”
At the June Planning Commission meeting, resident Anna Miller asked why affected property owners haven’t been notified individually.
“There’s a use table that seems like it would essentially serve as a rezone, so there might be a lot of other adjacent property owners that are interested in this process but they have no idea it’s happening,” Miller said.
Planning and Zoning staffer Emily Boyett explained the overlay district is not a zoning change, “but it’s a zoning amendment to the regulations. It’s not site specific … I mean it is … but … the underlying zoning will remain. This is an additional overlay that gives guidance as to how to develop it.”
Commission Chairman Lee Turner lectured Miller, defending the Commission’s transparency and claiming, “we can’t go door-to-door,” noting the city maintains an email list with 2,000 recipients and all meetings have been broadcast online.
“Anybody that doesn’t keep up with the City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission, I’m sorry … what do you think we should do? Certify a letter to everyone for $10,000? The notification goes in the newspaper that nobody reads anymore nowadays … but that’s the state law,” Turner said.
But the Greens aren’t buying it.
“They are calling it a rezoning amendment so they don’t have to advertise it,” Debra said. “What it does is even your home, if you can live in it and sell it, becomes a nonconforming use … 90 percent of the properties along the corridor will become a nonconforming use. We’re trying to do the best we can to let people know what’s going on and they can’t believe it. The only way people can know about it is if they receive an update or agenda from city meetings, or word of mouth. They cry transparency and this is about transparent as a tree.”
While King rushed through the proposal at the July Planning Commission meeting, using the phrases “very quickly” or “very briefly” at least three times in the first minute, Turner said it would be discussed in more detail during the Commission’s Aug. 5 work session. Presumably the Commission would vote on the proposal before the moratorium expires.
“This is one of the most important things that we are working on tonight, but this may not be the time to really air it out because we’ll have a work session where we can let our hair down and be a lot more relaxed with changes,” Turner said.
The Aug. 5 meeting begins at 4 p.m. in City Council chambers.
UPDATE: After this article was published, the city of Fairhope released an updated draft of the amended zoning ordinance.
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