Extension granted to controversial Fly Creek apartment project

Mayor Karin Wilson vetoes action

By Cliff McCollum
Posted 4/18/17

In a 4-1 vote, Fairhope’s city council members chose to extend a deadline for the developers of a controversial apartment complex proposed to be built near Fly Creek.

The proposed apartments …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Extension granted to controversial Fly Creek apartment project

Mayor Karin Wilson vetoes action

Posted

In a 4-1 vote, Fairhope’s city council members chose to extend a deadline for the developers of a controversial apartment complex proposed to be built near Fly Creek.

The proposed apartments have been a hot button issue politically for Fairhope for well over a year, and the council chambers was standing room only last week with people wishing to share their views on the matter before the council’s vote.

“All of us are depending on you to do what we elected you to do,” Rock Creek resident Judy Bond said. “I don’t want to have to change my minds about you. Go ahead and do the right thing.”

Riley Murphy, who lives on Fly Creek, implored the council not to pass the extension.

“For me, more than anything, it’s the environmental issue,” Murphy said. “Almost 20 children swim right there. Safety is first and of the utmost importance there.”

Murphy added the owners of the nearby Colonnade Apartments in Daphne had emailed and told him they were nowhere near peak occupancy.

“They’re not even at 50 percent occupancy,” Murphy said. “If we proceed with these apartments, we’re going to do nothing but soften the market further.”

Developers for the project, the Leaf River Group, had submitted a site plan last year that was denied by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The group had 12 months to present a new plan for review, but the moratorium put in place by the Fairhope City Council several months ago had affected the developers’ timeline.

Bob Wills, attorney for the developers, said he just wanted to see fairness to his clients.

“All we’re asking for on behalf of Leaf River and Mr. Corte is some fundamental fairness with regards to the procedure,” Wills said. “We would ask you to extend the sunset so we will not get caught in the Catch 22 of our sunset date because of the moratorium.”

Councilman Jay Robinson said he had been considering how to vote on the matter for some time now, but that this vote was strictly about the deadline extension, not about personal feelings on the apartments in general. “My take on this is pretty simple,” Robinson said. “I know that a lot of the people here want this vote to be about the merits of the apartments and whether or not they should have ever been approved the first time. That’s not what this vote is.”

Robinson said at the end of the day, the project as it stands now would be more environmentally safe than the previously proposed site plan.

“In my mind, based on the projects that have been presented to us, this project has more environmental protection than the other,” Robinson said. “This is not a debate on whether we like apartments or not. This is just an issue of fairness. I know a lot of people will disagree with the way I think, but to me, that’s just the way I see it.”

Councilman Robert Brown concurred with Robinson. “This is not a vote on the apartments,” Brown said. “To me, this is a decision about treating people fairly.” Council President Jack Burrell said he was the only sitting member of the council to actually cast a vote against the apartments, but even he saw the deadline extension as a question of fairness to the developer. Robinson, Brown, Burrell and Councilman Kevin Boone voted for the extension, with Councilman Jimmy Conyers casting the lone “No” vote.

On Tuesday, April 18, Mayor Karin Wilson announced on her official Facebook page that she would be vetoing the extension in a statement that read as follows:

"I am today exercising my right as Mayor to veto the Council's extension of the sunset provision contained in Ordinance 1572.

"When this ordinance originally passed on April 11, 2016 the great majority of our citizens opposed the zoning change allowing the construction of this large apartment complex in an environmentally sensitive area. The developer of this project, to induce the prior Council to approve the change, agreed to a more environmentally sensitive storm water drainage plan as well as a one year sunset provision.

"The developer then proceeded to utilize a more conventional drainage system that is a point discharge from a pipe into a detention pond. This is the same system that already failed and damaged Fly Creek and is unacceptable.

"The Planning Commission rightly denied approval of this plan and it is the developer who is at fault, not the City, if the sunset provision causes this apartment project to fail.

"I cannot therefore in good conscience sign this into law and respectfully request the Council respect the wishes of the citizens in this matter."

The council could override Wilson's veto with a 4-1 vote at its next meeting if it chose to do so.