Foley Planning Commission approves Peachtree rezoning

By Jessica Vaughn / jessica@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 11/21/17

FOLEY – After confusion in the vote during the Oct. planning commission, Foley commissioners voted in what some citizens considered a controversial motion to approve the request to rezone 24+/- …

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Foley Planning Commission approves Peachtree rezoning

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FOLEY – After confusion in the vote during the Oct. planning commission, Foley commissioners voted in what some citizens considered a controversial motion to approve the request to rezone 24+/- acres on E. Peachtree Avenue from R-1A to R-1B.

“I just want to say that I understand, I know people out there may be frustrated,” said council representative Ralph Hellmich. “And yes, traffic does concern us, the city is constantly working on traffic, improving bike trails, things of that nature, we try to stay ahead of it … I think our city does take very seriously the growth. We are having growth in the city, and I think our job is to try to manage it.”

At the end of the Oct. meeting, the commissioners realized there had been confusion in the votes, where the voice vote did not match up with the roll call vote. One way the vote was approved, while the other way it was denied. Upon leaving the Oct. meeting, the public believed the rezoning to be denied, and were surprised when they received a letter from city officials explaining the situation.

Since the mistake was on the commission and not the applicant, the City of Foley made the decision to begin the process anew.

“One of the members got confused and actually voted the wrong way on the second vote,” said Hellmich of the confusion. “She was very clear about it that it was not her intent. We want to be completely transparent so we’re not doing anything after the meeting to reverse things, so we’re starting the process over.”

The decision was made to bring the item back for discussion once more, allowing the public to come to show their support or opposition to the rezoning during the Nov. meeting.

The controversy comes from multiple angles, including the number of houses allowed in an area when changing zoning from R-1A and the decrease of property value of homes already in the area, along with traffic, drainage issues and safety. The developer has concerns on their end about losing space for housing due to requirements from the city.

“There’s some requirements from the city by way of greenspace and drainage that are going to take up a certain amount of property,” said Ercil Godwin speaking as the agent for the applicant. “Obviously that’s what initially effected the request for the change in zoning.”

After discussions with the developer, Godwin came before the commission to request a compromise, changing the original request to rezone from R-1C to R-1B.

“This basically increases the lot width from 75 feet to 85 feet,” said Godwin. “So doing that we’ll obviously lose a few lots, but apparently the developers looked at it and they can make their numbers work.”

Fifteen percent of the property must be set aside for greenspace, and Godwin believes around nine acres will be greenspace and storm water detention areas. This puts the development at 2.3 units per acre in an R-1B zoning.

“R-1B allows 3.3 units per acre, so we’d be a full unit less per acre than what’s allowed,” Godwin said. “So we’re well under the density of the zoning.”

Plans for the subdivision also include a 20-foot buffer around the property as well as the addition of a new roadway.

Citizens remain concerned about the amount of traffic that is already in the area, as well as a decrease in their property value were the subdivision to be built.

“This is going to do nothing but congest the traffic to the point that we can’t even drive there,” said local resident Tina Phelps. “It’s going to bring down the value of the homes out there because it’s going to be too much congestion.”

Residents also voiced worries about the number of children already living in the area who travel on foot to the bus stop for school, and the implications of the increased traffic.

Brock Wells, a resident of the area, came to voice his concerns on how the new subdivision and rezoning would affect property values.

“With wealth coming to us, growth comes to us, and that’s what we’re seeing here in Foley today,” said Wells. “We’re starting to expand at a rate that requires studious control, and that’s what we look to you [the commission] to do.”

Wells argues that by leaving the zoning at an R-1A, the subdivision would conform to the housing that is currently on Peachtree and surrounding areas, but Godwin stated by leaving the zoning untouched the developer would be left with minimal space for homes.

“Even in the R-1B, I still have to have 15 percent greenspace,” Godwin said. “I still have to have pretty much the same detention area, I still have the same right of way width, none of those things change. I just get less lots, so that’s the thing.”

While there were 61 homes in the R-1C zoning, it is predicted the number will fall to the lower 50s with the zoning change, but could be lower once environmental impact is taken into consideration.

Despite the oppression, Hellmich said that the plans for the new subdivision were some of the few that reach a public hearing, and that many applications never leave the staff level due to not being acceptable to the city standards. The commissioners also felt the compromise to be sound.

“I just wanted to say that at the work session [on Nov. 6] there was a lot of concern about the R-1C,” said Hellmich. “We heard you, and we felt that this piece of property is one of the greatest pieces of property in the world, but they [the owners] have a right to develop it. So I feel this is a compromise, and it does keep the density down in the 2’s, which is not far above where [the rest of the area] is at 1.6.”

With the approval from the planning commission, a public hearing is scheduled at the Dec. 4 council meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers. The city council will be the final decision for the zoning change, and Godwin hopes to have a conceptional plan ready to present for R-1B zoning. If the council approves the rezoning, then the developers will begin the process of submitting the subdivision designs through the planning commission for final approval.