A controversial condo development in historic Point Clear is likely to be considered by the Baldwin County Planning & Zoning Commission Sept. 5, two months after the applicant tabled the request amid concerns from nearby homeowners.
The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), which purchased The Grand Hotel Golf Resort & Spa and nearby properties in 1999, recently submitted an application to rezone a 1.27-acre piece of property adjacent to the hotel’s marina to accommodate a new four-story, 12-unit condominium complex. Currently part of the only property in the county zoned Tourism Resort District (TRD), RSA is seeking to change the 1.27 acres to High Density Residential (HDR), a zoning designation that does not currently exist in Planning District 26.
Tim Lawley, an engineer with Goodwyn Mills Cawood, who represents RSA on the application, wrote a letter to Planning Director Vince Jackson arguing the property is an investment “for the benefit of the numerous state employees invested in the retirement system. We have been exploring development strategies for this specific area for several years and feel that the proposed use of condominiums in this area is a reasonable and appropriate use for the subject property.”
Lawley wrote that its rezoning to HDR “would be a step down from the allowable commercial uses” in a TRD, which includes “hotels, motels … nightclubs, bars and taverns.” He also encouraged the application be judged on its “technical merit” rather than “any unsubstantiated fear of a possible spread of high residential zoning throughout the area.”
The application was recommended for denial by planning staff for both the county and city of Fairhope, but nearby property owners worry if approved, the rezoning would set a precedent which could change the character of the entire district. In July, the Point Clear Property Owners Association (POA) gathered 400 signatures on a petition in opposition to the application and submitted it to the Planning Commission along with 100 letters.
“We’re a low density residential area on a scenic highway,” said Matthew Mosteller, who has lived two doors north of the marina for nearly 30 years. “It’s the only area left where you can ride a bike, walk your children, walk a dog. If [RSA] can get high density, the next person who sells their property can say, ‘they got high density, why can’t I?’”
Noting the RSA is attempting to rezone just a small portion of its 27-acre Grand Hotel property, Mosteller warned with an approval of the application, “they can pick and choose other areas to start building these multi-family dwellings.”
“The [Grand Hotel] and this community have grown up together,” Michael Upchurch, president of the Point Clear POA, told the commission in July. “What is completely incongruent, inconsistent and conflicting with this community … are multi-family condominiums shoehorned into this very small sliver of land. It is a completely offensive change to the character of the neighborhood.”
In recommending the denial of the application, county planning staff wrote: “This is a difficult case with substantial opposition, which represents an effort to preserve the large lot development pattern which has historically existed in Point Clear. Staff has concerns with this request based on the incompatibility of a multi-family structure adjacent to a single family dwelling, the location of the proposed development in the coastal high hazard area and the intent of the HDR zoning.
“It should be noted that this application represents the first request for HDR. Although every rezoning is unique and is evaluated on its individual merits, this case will set a precedent for future HDR applications. As a result, staff believes that the intent of HDR as envisioned at the time of adoption should be followed. This designation would be more appropriately applied in an area adjacent to a municipality with separation and transitional zoning between the high density uses and single family uses.”
While the property does not fall within Fairhope’s corporate limits, it is within its five-mile planning jurisdiction. If rezoning is approved, RSA would have to submit a Multiple Occupancy Project for approval by the Fairhope Planning Commission.
Fairhope Development Services Manager Buford King wrote that the proposal “represents an incompatible land use” and its density of 9.45 units per acre is “only slightly below the highest development density allowed by Fairhope’s zoning ordinance, unless a higher density is requested .… ”
King also noted the neighboring properties are “low density and moderate density single family residential.”
On Monday, County Administrator Wayne Dyess said he and Planning Director Vince Jackson met with the applicants after the July meeting, when new information regarding existing multi-family condos in the district was submitted in support of the application. Mosteller acknowledged there are two other condos in the district, but said they were both built before zoning laws were adopted there in 1993.
Jackson confirmed the new information was considered — the two existing condos are considered nonconforming with low- to moderate-density residential zoning — but “there has been no change and I don’t anticipate a change” with the staff’s recommendation, he said. Dyess said he also supports Jackson’s position.
Jackson also said the Planning Commission frequently supports staff recommendations, but “every now and then they may see things differently.” If approved, the application would also require an endorsement from the Baldwin County Commission.
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