A simmering controversy over an apartment complex on Regency Road in Gulf Shores reached the boiling point in Monday’s council meeting.
Council members have sat quietly through five previous meetings and work sessions while residents vehemently protested and made demands. On Monday, during the sixth meeting, they finally spoke out.
“Sir, I have listened and listened and listened,” Councilman Philip Harris said to resident Pete Sims. “But I tell you I’ve had all of these personal attacks and these degrading remarks that I care for.
“[In] 2020, don’t vote for me. If y’all believe that we are conspiring, if you believe that we are underhanded and we’re having private meetings with developers that are criminals, please don’t vote for me. If the majority of the people in this community think the way you do, then I’m representing the wrong community.”
When the applause died down, Mayor Robert Craft seconded Harris’ comments.
“He’s the only one speaking but it’s how all of us feel,” Craft said.
Before the public comment part of the meeting began, two significant announcements were made stemming from the controversy. One effectively squashes any chance of short-term vacation rentals in the new complex or any more in multi-family zones. This was one of the first major concerns residents in the Regency area presented to the council.
Craft said the city was suspending issuing new business licenses for any short-term rental units zoned multi-family for 180 days. During the suspension period, city staffers will draft an amendment to the zoning ordinance to prohibit short-term rentals in those areas unless in the beach overlay district.
Any properties already licensed by the city can continue to operate. Regency Place would fall under the amendment and be prohibited from short-term rentals, City Planner Andy Bauer said.
Craft also announced a date for a specially called meeting of the Planning Commission for Thursday, Sept. 6, with the sole purpose of revisiting the Regency Place apartments’ site plan approval. Chartre Consulting is not reapplying. The meeting is to revisit the application under closer scrutiny than the zoning ordinance allows.
Sims wanted to know if the city had already reached its conclusions on the apartments.
“The lawyer wrote in the executive session ‘we will not set the meeting until the staff has completed the findings and conclusions,’” Sims said. “My question is, has that been done?”
Craft said work was still being done for the special session and questions still being answered.
“You seem to act like there’s a conspiracy theory here that you’re trying to express,” Craft said. “There is none. We’re determined to do this the right way. That means it takes some time to prepare some questions.”
Another of the residents’ complaints related to transparency of the Planning Commission. They said they felt blindsided because the city didn’t adequately inform them about the apartment plans. Resident Nan Hedgspeth demanded the city propose and pass a resolution to air all city meetings and work sessions either on local cable or streaming over the internet.
City Administrator Steve Griffin said resolutions are normally carefully studied by city staff as to cost and feasibility but it’s something the city was willing to explore.