Plans to redraw Dauphin Island’s zoning districts got put on hold after a public hearing on the matter last week revealed many of the town’s residents still had unanswered questions.
A vote on the proposed change to the island’s zoning ordinance for business and residential properties was scheduled for the town council’s meeting Aug. 5, but after more than an hour of public comment before the meeting, councilmembers unanimously agreed the plan wasn’t ready to move forward.
Though some residents heard about the vote only a few days before, the changes are a part of a strategic planning process that’s been going on for more than a decade, officials said.
“A lot of communities will go through the trouble to develop a comprehensive plan, but never use it,” said Mayor Jeff Collier. “We’re trying to take what was suggested for us to do and implement some of that.”
That’s exactly what the town planning commission attempted to do when it spent several weeks developing a revised, 122-page zoning ordinance proposal – one created using public input gathered during the development of the comprehensive plan and at the planning commission’s own meetings.
Collier said the new zoning ordinance, which was developed with assistance from the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning Commission (SARPC), proposed around 200 changes. However, some residents felt that a few of those – two in particular – could have negative effects on their property values.
The first dealt with changing all of the properties previously listed as “Single Family Residential” to “Multi-Family Residential or Duplex.”
In the draft of the zoning ordinance, multi-family residential districts would be allowed to build “dwelling structures containing 3-4 units. It also included special exceptions for “kindergarten and daycare centers.”
“Who the heck’s bright idea was it to blanket the island with duplex zoning?” resident Deena McKee asked the council at the meeting. “We have certain areas on the island with duplex and multi-family dwellings, and if you look at those areas, they are more run down.”
McKee was one of several residents who said they would strongly consider selling their properties and leaving the island if their neighborhoods were rezoned as “duplex.”
Collier said concerns about a reduction in property values were looked at during the formation of the strategic plan – part of which was aimed at making the island sustainable in the future, even in the presence of ongoing erosion and the threat from hurricanes.
“If you were to lose a part of the island, you’re going to have to make that up in other places,” Collier said. That was the general theme of how it was looked at. In that event, you need to afford more growth in the remaining part of the island for us to have long-term survival economically.”
During the discussion, Collier referred to “Katrina Cut,” the nickname given to a section of the western part of the island that was washed away during Hurricane Katrina.
Another issue with the zoning draft deals with an area of waterfront properties spanning west from Fort Conde Street to Omega Avenue, commonly known as “The Village.”
Under the proposed changes the area – which was previously zoned “Single Family Residential” – would be approved for residential development along with “small-scale retail service and business, mixed-use buildings and low impact development.”
The zoning ordinance listed a number of various business types under the permitted uses section of The Village. However, as one resident pointed out at the meeting, the ordinance also fails to effectively limit the business activity to those uses alone.
The proposed ordinance for that area currently “prohibits mixed uses in predominately residential areas that would result in unreasonable increase in traffic, noise or lighting that disrupts residential quality of life.”
However, attorney and former Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. said the definitions used are ambiguous.
“That’s great, but who defines reasonable?” Tyson asked the council members. “We were here first, so I guess it would be reasonable for us to define it, but boy – who would want to go to court to figure all that out?”
Tyson attended the public meeting on behalf of the Pass Chateau Harbor Homes Association, which has publicly opposed the proposed changes to the island’s zoning ordinances.
The PCHHA, whose properties are at the foot of the bridge to the mainland, took its stance because the proposal stood to change an area near the Dauphin Island Marina from “multi-family residential” to “working waterfront.”
“We’re concerned that would expose our condos to unlimited commercial fishing, food processing, food and cold storage plants, contractors’ storage yards and other operations,” Tyson said. “It could wreak havoc on the quiet enjoyment of this association’s property and dramatically affect the values of those properties.”
Carolyn Wood, a member of the planning commission, told Tyson the area he was referring to is currently zoned as “industrial manufacturing.”
“The working waterfront may allow some things you might not be in favor of, but indeed without this, they’re already allowed to operate in the area,” Wood said.
Other noteworthy changes in the zoning ordinance include the reclassification of the former Isle Dauphine Golf Club area from “Conservation Park” to “Resort Commercial.”
An increase in the height limit for residential properties from 45 to 55 feet was also included. Collier said the height increase was done to help property owners because of the possibility of redrawn flood maps, which are anticipated at some point in the future.
“If you keep the lid on it and you’re forced to build higher, you’re going to eventually run into houses with 4-foot ceilings,” Collier said. “The height increase was strictly a guess based on what we’ve seen in Mississippi. There is no set date for any new flood maps.”
Collier said hearing the feedback from the community was an important part of the process. He also said the zoning ordinance would be reviewed by the planning commission before it comes before the council again.
“The attempt that was made was done in good faith by people who live in this community just like you do,” Collier told the crowd. “This is not my island or the committee that put this together’s island, it’s all of ours.”
The council is currently “regrouping and taking an inventory of all the different comments to target the areas that were of more concern” as it moves forward with planned zoning ordinance changes.