Lake Forest residents decried what they called a lack of transparency regarding the city’s proposed Daphne Innovation and Science Complex (DISC) at the Aug. 3 Daphne City Council meeting. Several of the residents said they were motivated by an article in the August edition of The Lake Forester, the subdivision’s monthly newsletter, encouraging them to address the City Council with their concerns about the project.
Some residents said secrecy behind the push for the DISC project has kept them in the dark about the city’s plans. Mary Ann Hampton said information was provided to Lake Forest at the last minute, with very little time to study an issue affecting so many residents in the 3,000 home community.
“I’m used to seeing feasibility studies, market studies, traffic patterns and plans, environmental impact studies,” she said. “We are being told the good points of this project by word of mouth with no evidence to back it up. Is that the right way to make a decision that will be a long-term, far-sighted development plan?”
Councilman Joe Davis, the council’s liaison to the Industrial Development Board (IDB), said discretion is necessary when dealing with industrial and economic development issues. He said the DISC project will not use city funds other than those allotted to the IDB, which is given 13 percent of lodging tax revenues and charged with attracting business development to the city.
“This is the kind of project that when you need to know something, you need to know something,” he said. “We are at a point where we need to share information with y’all.
“Looking back, should we have communicated a little differently? Well maybe so,” Davis continued. “But we did not want to jeopardize the possibility of the project working by talking too early.”
The 75-acre project, proposed at the corner of Lawson Road and State Highway 181, would be divided into three phases, the first of which would be 30 acres. The first phase includes three “Class A” office buildings designed to attract technology companies and white-collar, professional corporations.
“We are all concerned about the first 30 acres of this project, but we also do not understand what is going to happen with the other 45 acres,” Lake Forest Improvement Committee President Henry Lawson said. “That is the biggest problem, we don’t know what is around the corner.”
Councilman Ron Scott said the city needs white collar jobs to support its educated population and keep college graduates from moving elsewhere to pursue careers. Mayor Dane Haygood agreed and said the city being a “bedroom community” of Mobile means fewer people spend money in town during the day.
“We do need to increase the daytime population to provide diversity of jobs for future generations, and also make sure our retailers survive,” Haygood said.
The city will discuss the DISC project at its Aug. 10 work session and will hold a public hearing on the issue at its Aug. 17 meeting. Haygood said no action will be taken on the issue until at least the first meeting in September, when the City Council could vote on the parcel’s Planned Unit Development zoning and annexation.