Baldwin County Circuit Court Judge Clark Stankoski effectively stopped work on a controversial apartment complex under construction in Fairhope today, ruling its approval by the Planning Commission last year and subsequent permits are “null, void, and of no effect” because the city did not adhere to its own regulations when greenlighting the project.
The order, part of a lawsuit brought by a residents’ organization known as Fly Creek Watershed Preservation Association, awarded summary judgement to the plaintiffs, who argued the project adopted inadequate stormwater management techniques in violation of the city’s own ordinance.
Stankoski agreed, finding “while the drainage system proposed in the Multiple Occupancy Site Plan approved by the Fairhope Planning Commission in September 2017 may work from an engineering perspective, may comply with Fairhope’s subdivision and storm water regulation requirements, it does not comply with the governing ordinance’s requirements …
“The requirements were fairly specific, unique and required the use of a non-point discharge system utilizing a gabion wall that ran the entire of the wetland boundary near Fly Creek,” Stankoski noted. “The ordinance’s drainage plan’s purpose was ‘to help protect the adjacent Fly Creek.’”
Instead, the Planning Commission approved an eight point discharge system that drains through eight level spreaders unconnected to any gabion wall or gabion wall segments.
“No perforated pipes or gravel beds allow water to drain through a gabion wall,” the order reads. “There is not a gabion wall that meets the ordinance’s objective and unambiguous requirements.”
The 230-unit Retreat at Fairhope Village has been a source of contention for years in the city, where residents are concerned about aestictics and traffic from such a large development and previous work adjacent to the site spurred similar lawsuits. Some beleive Mayor Karin Wilson’s opposition to the project led to her victory over four-term incumbent Tim Kant.
Attorney Adam Milam, representing the plaintiffs, said they were “very happy” with the order.
“It’s a simple, correct ruling, and it finally it feels like [Mobile and Baldwin counties] are getting big enough where we have to look at the law and everyone has to comply.”
Milam said he began to have faith in a favorable ruling after the development’s own engineer testified how the PUD changed after its initial approval and the developers adopted alternative plans.
“They were doing some ‘linguistic gymnastics’ — like some crazy preacher that takes one verse out of the bible and makes it mean something else,” Milam said.
Milam said he could not speculate whether the developer would appeal the ruling, as legal remedies would likely take much longer than either adhearing to the ordinance or seeking a valid amendment to the PUD.