The Daphne City Council failed to move on the annexation and zoning of a contested piece of property in the Malbis Historic District.
Councilors agreed to take up the issue on first reading, after hearing a second public debate on the issue Monday night. But in the end, no motion was made and the ordinances that would’ve brought the 17 acres south of U.S. Highway 90 into Daphne for commercial use failed.
The property in question is part of a larger historic district that has three separate distinctions, said University of South Alabama Archeologist Bonnie Gums. The Malbis Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places, is part of the Alabama Historical Commission’s Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage and is listed as one of four historic districts in Baldwin County, Gums said.
If annexed into Daphne, the land would lose the historical designation and the protection the county affords such districts, she said.
“I think it’s a terrible idea…,” Gums told the council. “They call it development, but I call it destruction.”
The history of the area was one of a few talking points for Malbis residents opposed to the annexation. Kevin Spriggs, a vocal pro-development businessman who owns the Shell service station at the intersection of U.S Highway 90 and State Highway 181, said it’s important to protect the area’s significance.
“The Malbis area is full of history and we don’t have too many of those places left in Baldwin County,” he said. “I hope you decide to keep the area special.”
Spriggs also touched on another major talking point for opponents, the absence of a plan from the property’s owner, George Kalasountas.
“My understanding with this is there is no plan,” Spriggs said. “Commercial zoning allows the owner to use the property accordingly.”
John Lawler, an attorney representing the historic district, called the annexation and pre-zoning “speculative.”
“Property owners want to be able to see how the project will benefit them,” Lawler said. “With this, there is no plan, so we don’t know what it’ll be.”
Lawler asked councilors to pass a local ordinance to compliment the county’s protection of historic districts, like Malbis.
Other opponents, including Malbis Plantation board members, told councilors they were close to developing a master plan for the entire area, including the parcel owned by Kalasountas.
Willard Simmons, a Malbis Plantation board member, asked the council to be patient and in six months the board could have a plan in place for future use of the area.
Bill Scully, an attorney for Kalasountas, told councilors his client is on the Malbis Plantation board and has created three separate plans for the area, but the board hasn’t made a decision.
“They haven’t done it in 10 to 15 years, why would they make a decision in six months?” Scully asked.
The property in question, Scully said, would be for townhouses, with some room fronting the highway reserved for commercial use. He said the plan would be consistent with Daphne’s 10-year-old comprehensive plan.
“It’s a good plan, it’s consistent with your plan and I encourage you to approve it,” Scully said.
Kalasountas told councilors he didn’t ever plan to be a developer and he only acquired the 17 acres in question as repayment for financial help he had given relatives who brought him here from Greece when he was 20 years old. He said he’s spent about $150,000 to clean up the property.
“We spoke about history,” he said. “I’m part of the history. I don’t want to destroy Malbis Plantation, or Malbis Lane.”
He assured his neighbors that they would not be negatively impacted by a development on the property. He said there would be no access to Malbis Lane from the development and only access to Highway 90.
“This community, I’m a part of it,” he said.
Councilman Robin LeJeune said he hopes that the non-action results in the neighbors working together to come up with a plan.
“As for the non-vote tonight, I do hope the plantation does decide to move forward … ,” he said. “We will be here for another year and a half and I do hope to work with you.”
Councilman Joe Davis said he hopes the entire area bounded by Highways 181, 90 and County Road 64 could become part of Daphne.
“I think the plantation can become a business center and the Kalasountas property can become the start of that,” he said.
He cautioned though that proper restrictions should be put in place to maintain the integrity of the area.
“We need to move forward and have everybody sit down,” he said. “It needs to look like Malbis.”
Councilman John Lake said businesses across Highway 90 have to pay a higher sales tax rate and fees for upkeep in the area. He added, with some empty space there, there was a concern about cannibalizing business by allowing commercial use so close without the same restrictions.
“I want to see a plan,” Lake said. “I want to see something that protects the area. I didn’t want to do anything to destroy the historic overlay of the county.”
Mayor Dane Haygood said it would be a good idea to look at regulations regarding historic districts. Councilman Ron Scott, chairman of the council’s ordinance committee, told his fellow councilors and guests that they would look into the issue.
After council comments ended, councilors unanimously voted to allow Kalasountas to withdraw the applications in question.
In other business, the council voted to transition the position of treasurer to the city’s finance director.
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