DAPHNE – Plans for a new Whataburger on US 98 are on hold after the Daphne City Council tabled a proposal to lease property for a restaurant site.
The council voted Monday, Oct. 5 to delay the vote until the plan to lease city property next to the Daphne Justice Center could be studied and discussed. Robin LeJeune, council president and mayor-elect, said some members had questions about the lease.
“There has been concern about the leasing documents of the Whataburger restaurant, so we are going to table that resolution 2020-56 at this time,” LeJeune said.
Councilman-elect Steve Olen said the lease ties up city property for decades and commits Daphne to financial obligations. Olen will take office as the District 2 member Nov. 2.
“It involves tying up a valuable and substantial piece of property of the city for 30 years and it involves significant dollars,” Olen said. “The City Council needs substantial time to review and evaluate this proposed transaction and I submit it ought to be put off, long enough, at least 30 days, for the City Council to digest it.”
He said the lease also requires the city to make improvements to the site, such as grading, landscaping, access and sidewalks. Daphne would also commit to approving the site plan, giving up the municipal right to oversee construction plans, he said.
“I’m not sure it’s even legal to do that.” Olen said. “Why in the world would the city of Daphne provide this open, blanket approval for Whataburger to change the conceptual site plan and you’ve approved it in advance and given up your right to complain, or object?”
Mayor Dane Haygood said the lease proposal has been developed by the city over the last 18 months and has been reviewed and approved by lawyers representing Daphne.
“Certainly the council doesn’t need to consider that until there’s a point of comfort, but I would like the public to know that the council’s been aware of this opportunity for over 18 months and started in the form of letter of intent with general deal structure and a lot of those fees that are there for site improvements were actually put in our FY (Fiscal Year) 20 budget as part of the capital plan,” Haygood said.
He said the lease would allow the city to make money off the property without giving up land that might be needed for municipal purposes in the future.
“There’s a lot of different ideas and the council has to vet those to determine what’s best for the city, but at the end of the day with that arrangement, the city was looking to monetize an asset that we had that was not being used and in addition we did not want to sell that asset because we might need to expand our police department in the future and so to generate revenue that could then be plugged into parks and other functions for the city as well as retaining ownership of that is the logic behind that and there’s some that may agree or disagree with that logic, but that’s what’s up for consideration by the council,” Haygood said.
He said the Whataburger would also generate sales tax revenue for the city. He said the company has not revealed how much money each restaurant generates, but one estimate is about $3 million.