The Baldwin County Planning Commission will consider a pair of controversial zoning requests at its next meeting that have riled some Eastern Shore residents.
On Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Baldwin County Central Annex in Robertsdale, the commission will hear a request from Point Clear resident George Spottswood to rezone a parcel of property south of the Grand Hotel from residential to a commercial designation. The request made some Point Clear residents uneasy, raising concerns about traffic and noise in the quiet community south of Fairhope.
Neighbors on Scenic Highway 98 claim Spottswood wants to open a general store on property on Old Marlow Road. 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.
Commissioner Chris Elliott said the parcel in question has been used in a number of ways — as a post office, a bus stop and a general store — over the years, and has historical significance for the area. Although he hasn’t seen any real plan for the parcel, he believes Spottswood intends to minimize its impact on the area.
In order to open a business on the parcel, the county must rezone it from residential to B-2 commercial, a broad zoning designation regulating everything from small coffee shops to convenience stores and night clubs. Elliott said he is interested in finding out how the county might be able to modify its B-2 designation in this case, saying he isn’t concerned about the Spottswoods’ plans for the parcel, but by how the designation could be interpreted in the future.
“The bottom line is, I don’t think many people in Point Clear are keen on having a commercial property there, but I think they would be OK with a small coffee shop or something quiet like that,” Elliott said. “If government is the problem here, with a zoning designation that doesn’t fit in this case, we should be able to fix it. Modifying our B-2 regulation is something our attorneys should look at.”
If the county is unable to modify its commercial designation in this case, Elliott said he might not be able to support the application.
“We are trying to figure out a compromise, if there’s a compromise to be had,” he said.
Laura McLeod said her parents have lived on property one-tenth of a mile from the proposed rezoning for 20 years. She said although “the boardwalk” is not a typical neighborhood, the people who live there do consider themselves neighbors. McLeod said a commercial business in the area would also negatively impact the Eastern Shore Trail, a pedestrian corridor along Scenic 98.
“My husband and I have two young children, ages 5 and 2, and we enjoy walking and riding bikes on this path behind my family’s home,” McLeod said. “An increase in neighborhood traffic would be particularly troublesome in the area where my children and many other residents enjoy walking, jogging and biking.”
Point Clear Property Owners Association President Allan Chason said only one property in Point Clear has been rezoned from residential to commercial in the last 25 years.
“There’s nothing personal about it, but Point Clear is a very desirable place to live and I’d like to keep it that way,” Chason said.
Additional traffic, lights and noise notwithstanding, Chason said Point Clear residents should be concerned about what happens after the property is rezoned. Just because the applicant presents a plan for a general store beforehand, after the zoning change the applicant isn’t necessarily bound by the original plan. Once the zoning changes, all bets are off, Chason said.
“Once they get a commercial zoning, that gives them the right to do whatever B-2 zoning allows,” Chason said. “That could mean a convenience store, a grocery store or whatever else.”
In a separate agenda item, the planning commission will entertain a request from Malbis Plantation Inc. to rezone land at the southwest corner of the intersection of U.S. Highway 90 and State Route 181 to make way for a proposed emergency clinic operated by Thomas Hospital.
Elliott said people who live in Daphne and Spanish Fort have to drive to Thomas Hospital in Fairhope in the event of a late-night emergency.
“The emergency clinic is kind of a no-brainer, I think,” he said. “It will bring some much-needed emergency medical services to a part of the county that really doesn’t have anything like it right now.”
However, the property’s designation as a National Registered Historic District by the National Park Service and its place on the 2015 Places in Peril list means the effort could face stiff opposition from nearby residents, who fear development on the property would bring destruction of historic buildings as well as additional traffic and noise at an already busy intersection.
“If this complex has to be built in such a historic area, I hope the city, county, developers and Infirmary Health will take great care to be sensitive to historic landmarks on the property,” Malbis resident Jennifer Miller said.
Malbis is considered historically significant not only because of the historic buildings on the plantation, but also because of the historic nature of the Greek immigrants who settled there in the late 19th century. The plantation was founded by Jason Malbis, an orthodox monk, as a Greek settlement based on monastic values. Its settlers installed one of the first generator units in the area and opened an ice plant, a plant nursery, a bakery and a cannery. Many of the original buildings still stand on the plantation.
“There have been other examples of places where there have been good, sound developments in historic areas,” Miller said. “I really hope they take a good look at some of those places before they begin here.”