A man who claims to be the only homeowner in a subdivision off of Dauphin Island Parkway says he has been told he is no longer a member of the homeowners association, in the midst of a legal battle over an application to the Mobile Planning Commission.
An attorney for George Owens obtained a temporary restraining order Thursday, which forced developers of Heron Landing to withdraw an application for resubdivision of the 20-lot parcel to make way for future plans.
In 2009, Owens bought property and the rights to a boatslip in the subdivision, which partially fronts Dog River, from realtor and developer J. Gaines Betbeze. Since then, though, he has added that parcel to adjacent property in the Faye Place subdivision he owns and lives on to take advantage of a tax credit for which he’s eligible because of his wife’s disability.
His merging of the two properties, he and his attorney Bratton Rainey have said, is the reason developers and officers of the Heron Landing Homeowners Association told him he’s no longer a member of the subdivision, or of the homeowners association.
The son of J. Gaines Betbeze, attorney Jaime Betbeze, cited the restraining order and said he would not be able to comment.
In addition to claiming to own the only home in the subdivision, Owens said he has spent time and money repairing an empty dock in the property’s common area. He’s replaced wood and paid half the cost to put in a water line.
“I’m the only person entitled to dock space,” he said. “I’m the only one to ever have a boat in the boat slips.”
Owens and Rainey said they believe he is still a member of the homeowners association because when he purchased the property for $55,000, he was granted leeway on covenants and conditions. Rainey added that Owens wouldn’t have paid so much for the property without the promised access to the water. He said if he’s removed from the homeowners’ association and the subdivision, he’d lose access to the water.
Line 7 of the purchase agreement states that the Heron Landing developer can’t use any “building, out-building, other feature or improvement,” which does not fit the covenants and conditions of the subdivision as a basis to deny Owens’ application to join his Faye Place lot to his Heron Landing lot. Line 6 of the agreement allows Owens to maintain his business, George Owens & Associates LLC, even if the two lots are combined.
At issue for Owens and residents of other neighborhoods is the fear that a resubdivision, which is what the Planning Commission was going to consider Oct. 20, would lead to the construction of apartments on the property. Owens said he doesn’t want apartments that close to his home. He gathered petition with 32 signatures from residents along Doyle Street, Willowdale Street and other nearby areas. He also sent a letter dated Oct. 13 to the Planning Commission, writing that those who signed the petition are worried about the future use of the development.
“We are aware that the intent of the developers [is to consolidate] the lots from the current 20 residential lots into two oversized residential lots,” he wrote. “The developer has indicated his intent that if he is successful in this application to market the consolidated lots to accommodate apartment construction requiring a [rezoning] of the property to something other than R-1.”
Rainey also argued a resubdivision would go against the current homeowners association’s guidelines and officers of the organization have a duty to uphold those.
According to the commission’s agenda, planning staff had recommended the move to redivide the property for approval with conditions. Any rezoning application would first have to be approved by the Planning Commission and then by the City Council.
Debi Foster, executive director of Peninsula of Mobile, said she’s worked closely with Gaines Betbeze on the issue and confirmed there are no current plans for apartments on the property. She also said the group is not taking sides in the debate, but added the land in question is a development point in the community’s comprehensive plan.
Foster said the elder Betbeze has attempted for years to sell the property as individual lots, but has run into the ill effects of a negative perception about the Dauphin Island Parkway area.
“One of our major focuses is to change the perception, real or imagined,” she said. “The crime stats don’t bear out the perception of the community.”
Gaines Betbeze has invited Foster to meetings with investors to present the comprehensive plan, but those investors have been less than thrilled because of the perception that exists, she said.
“We were greeted coolly at best,” Foster said. “The perception is holding us back.”
Foster said some of the issues may also stem from the price of insurance, or the collapse in the housing market shortly after Betbeze purchased the land.
As for Gaines Betbeze, Foster said her group could not ask any more from a developer. He has invited the group to meetings and worked with them on it.
“He’s looking for options,” Foster said. “We’ve worked with him to find options … That area is an important area for us. We’ll keep an eye on it.”
Rainey said the officers of the homeowners association and the developers have an obligation to do right by the only man to buy property in the subdivision.
“The developers are in a situation where they need to do something with the property, and I get that,” Rainey said. “I don’t get how they’ve handled this with George Owens … They need to make him happy, or not move forward with the project.”
A hearing is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 31, for a preliminary injunction on the Planning Commission application. The commission itself will hold a hearing on the issue Thursday, Nov. 17.
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