Magnolia Springs Mayor Bob Holk was between a rock and a hard place. Increasingly at odds with the five-member Town Council over where to purchase property for a new town hall and municipal center, he chose to submit a letter of resignation in mid-October.
But “that wasn’t the only issue,” he said last week.
About a year and a half ago, Holk and his wife Lorena purchased a 3-acre, T-shaped property behind the landmark Jessie’s restaurant, where they are interested in developing a mixed-use project.
“It got real controversial, being in a small town I guess. In a larger town you have building departments and inspectors where you ask for permits and go through them, but it’s a small town, and I was doing a lot of that myself anyway,” he said.
Speculation ensued. On social media, in email threads and at Town Council meetings, people wondered just what the mayor was up to. Truth was, he said, he didn’t quite know yet.
The property is zoned commercial and is buffered by a public easement where a boardwalk and small pier — paid for with BP money — lead to the cold part of Magnolia River. The Holk property itself has a small section of waterfront next to the pier, and, among other things, they have considered building cottages or a bed & breakfast, possibly with limited retail space.
But the public was concerned about a loss of access to the waterfront, destruction of wetlands and the floodplain on the Holk property. Others assumed the mayor would pull some strings behind the scenes. Instead, he pulled his preliminary application Oct. 8 and resigned the next week.
“I would hope that whatever I do, it would maybe give a little better access to the [river] from Oak Street,” Holk said.
But he couldn’t do it as mayor.
“When a mayor wants to do something else, even if it’s not in my best interest, my obligation is to facilitate whatever is best for the town,” he said. “My heart wasn’t really in [the council’s town hall proposal]. And with my property, I thought it was time to let them go on and I wish them the best, and now I can go on and work on my projects.”
On Oct. 22, Councilwoman Kim Konair, the daughter-in-law of Foley Mayor John Koniar, was unanimously nominated as his successor and immediately sworn in.
Up the road in Fairhope, a larger town with both a building department and an inspector, a much larger development was under consideration. The Klumpp PUD, planned on a 75.93-acre parcel between Fairhope and Gayfer avenues, envisions 67 single-family houses, 232 apartment units and 16 lots for commercial use along the State Route 181 corridor, which has exploded with growth from Malbis southward in recent years.
The applicant is Gayfer Village Partners, LLC, which was incorporated in August 2018 by Fairhope Municipal Judge Haymes Snedeker and his business partner Ray Hix, who resigned from his appointed position on the Fairhope Airport Authority in June citing personal reasons.
Hix is no stranger to conflicts of interest. As a new member of the Airport Authority in 2015, he recused himself from a vote to award a 30-year lease to his own company, Mid-Bay Air, LLC, for four parcels of property at the H.L. Sonny Callahan Airport where he later built a private hangar.
Several residents spoke against the proposal and another 99-unit proposed residential development on the Oct. 22 City Council agenda, but one, Mario Gabriel Jr., who has lived in the neighboring Firethorne subdivision for three years, had a pointed question:
“Who on this [council] has a vested personal interest in this project?” Gabriel asked, suggesting Snedeker’s role as municipal judge presented a conflict of interest. He has served in that capacity since 2004, according to records, most recently re-appointed in January in a unanimous vote of the City Council.
While no council member appears to have an immediate interest in the Klumpp PUD, some have had either business or political relationships with the developers or property owners in the past.
Councilman Kevin Boone, for example, was listed as one of two directors of K&B Construction Company, Inc, when it was incorporated in December 1991. The other was George B. Klumpp Jr., a member of the Klumpp farming family, who in a 1999 “get to know” profile published in the Mobile Press-Register, said the family had “sold or developed much of their property” along the 181 corridor. Notably, the Klumpp family sold Walmart roughly 58-acres caddy-corner from the proposed Klumpp PUD for $3.76 million in 2006.
Probate records indicate K&B Construction was dissolved in 2007, but are also rife with transactions involving both the Klumpps and Boone. The parcel slated for development with the PUD was owned exclusively by Klumpp Family Properties until it was sold to Gayfer Village Partners for $5.4 million in 2018.
Hix & Snedeker LLC contributed $500 to Boone’s City Council campaign in 2013.
Boone explained Tuesday that K&B was involved in construction and among other things, developed the Idlewild subdivision near the Klumpp PUD. He said he has “absolutely no business dealings with the Klumpps anymore,” although he remains friends with George and other family members.
Before it was sold, Boone said, the property encompassing the Klumpp PUD was primarily controlled by T.J. Klumpp, George Klumpp’s uncle. Further, Boone said he’s “never met Ray Hix” and couldn’t speculate about the company’s motivation for the $500 contribution to his 2013 campaign.
Councilman Jay Robinson also has political connections to the Hix and Snedeker through Colby Cooper, formerly the chief of staff for Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson until his resignation in late 2016. Now, Cooper is chief operating officer of Hix Snedeker Companies, but in 2015, he was also listed as a member of Robinson’s campaign committee on Fair Campaign Practices Act Forms. He donated at least $250 to Robinson’s campaign that year, while Hix chipped in at least $1,000, according to records.
Responding to emailed questions, Cooper explained Robinson is his wife’s first cousin, “so we were honored to support Jay … I am not involved in any way with the PUD application, other than by association.”
For his part, Hix responded to questions emailed to both he and Snedeker by offering “financial support that I contributed was related solely to my desire to have the best possible candidates representing the city where I live. Otherwise, I have no comment on my support of whomever I choose.”
Both items were pulled from the Nov. 13 City Council agenda at the request of the developers.
Editor’s note: This article was initially published Nov. 7 but was inadvertently not uploaded to the website until Nov. 14.
This page is available to our local subscribers. Join now at a special rate.
During December,get the best deal all year. Give (or get) a subscription to Lagniappe with TWO months FREE with an annual subscription. Click here to find out more.. Check it out now.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here