The Gulf Shores Planning Commission heard from residents as well at the architect of Regency Place Apartments in a special meeting Thursday night.
The meeting began with Planning Director Andy Bauer reading the conclusions and findings promised to the concerned residents about the project.
The findings state that the Regency Place Apartments plan is consistent with the comprehensive plan and the purpose and intent of the applicable district.
“The comprehensive plan is not a single document, rather it is a combination of the provisions of the zoning ordinance, zoning maps, master plans and development guidelines which constitute the basis for a comprehensive zoning plan for the City of Gulf Shores,” Bauer said. “The property is zoned R-4 residential/ high-density multiple-family district and has been sine 1984. The purpose and intent of the R-4 zoning district is for the protection of areas that are, or are planned to be, developed for high-density attached housing in central locations within the community.”
The findings also stated that the plan for the development is in conformance with all applicable regulations of the applicable district and that multiple-family residential development is allowed by right in the R-4 district.
The city also had a second, independent traffic study conducted by Skipper Consulting after questions were raised about the timing of the original study. The findings were similar, and the city’s report stated the roadways and intersections would operate with acceptable levels of service during future daily and peak hour traffic conditions.
Staff recommended the continued approval of Regency Place Apartments with conditions, one of them being no vacation rental licenses issued to the property ever.
Residents of The Enclave, Regency Club, The Ridge and Lakewood presented their own set of findings and facts to the planning commission.
Within the report, authored by Rex Lawson and Bob Scidmore, the citizens argued that limitations could be applied by planning commission and city staff.
“The overwhelming opposition from the district and community near Regency Road/Clubhouse Road should certainly be a limitation on this site plan review,” the report stated. “Any developer should have been well aware that "by right" does not guarantee all maximum stated uses in a zoned property, in this case R-4.”
The report also cited ARTICLE 1: G ENERAL PROVISIONS §1-3 of the zoning ordinance that states the zoning exists to protect, promote and improve the public health, safety, convenience, order, prosperity, and general welfare of the residents.
“This development would add almost 1,000 persons to the population of this community, almost a 10 percent increase in the population of Gulf Shores,” the citizens said. “This is not avoiding undue concentration of population. This development would add a minimum of 686 vehicles per day; this does not lessen congestion in the streets. These are definitely limitations that would apply to these site plans.”
The group is also concerned about their property rates dropping. They found US Census Bureau data in the Community Data section that says in areas of “high rental concentrations” property values drop an average of 13.8 percent. They said similar losses are being located next to a “strip club” (14.7 percent) or a homeless shelter (12.7 percent).
“Rental unit quantity will go from 48 to 254 in the neighborhood, a 529 percent increase,” the report read. Rental percentage will increase from 11 percent to 39 percent of all neighborhood dwelling units. Of 138 adjoining property owners, 96 percent fear their property values will drop as a result of this development. Whether this development causes this devaluation or not, the fact is that these people are feeling this anxiety and threat to their investment.”
Developer speaks out
Stuart Povall, the architect behind the apartments, spoke to the planning commission for the development. He said his team recognizes the concerns of the citizens and that change doesn’t come easy.
“We have made statements to this commission, to the city council and to the press that touch on quality of the project, the nature of its ownership, its targeted demographics, its rent thresholds and things like that,” Povall said. “We stand by those statements still today. However, we do not consider topics such as that relevant to the proceedings today. I would like to make clear that we have followed the City of Gulf Shores’ ordinance entirely and only want to develop this land as entitled by its zoning and the requirements placed on it by the city’s ordinance. This is a by-right development, and all we want to do is develop according to our rights as land owners under the law.”
He said his team believes the development will fit a need in Gulf Shores for high-quality rental housing close to the central business district and the beach.
“We consider ourselves fully entitled at this point to move forward with this development as currently zoned,” Povall said. “We are here to assist the city and this commission in an attempt to clarify why we have gained our approvals already. We do not expect that the right to move forward with this development as currently designed and approved is going to change at this point. We are simply voluntarily pausing as we assist the city and residents in working through this clarification.”