FAIRHOPE – The Fairhope City Council postponed decisions on proposals for two sites after lengthy debates and public protests over the motions.
The council voted to table a request by developer Matt Bowers to build a 13-room “boutique hotel” on the corner of Fairhope Avenue and Section Street. Council members said they hoped the delay would allow Bowers and city officials to find a way to swap land and save the open area near the town clock.
Resident Debbie Quinn said the proposed development would change the center of Fairhope.
“This is the heart of Fairhope. Everything happens there,” she said. “I grew up on that corner.”
Council President Jack Burrell said most residents’ objections were not to the hotel, but to the plan to place it so close to the intersection and town clock.
“The front door is literally five or six feet from the clock,” Burrell said.
Bowers said he had worked with city officials for months to plan the project. He said he told officials he was willing to discuss a land swap that would allow construction to be shifted away from the clock, but that he had never been contacted by anyone from Fairhope.
“I do think it’s a little bit unfair to me,” he said.
He said the hotel would be a benefit to Fairhope and would create less congestion than other uses for the site, such as stores or a restaurant.
Councilman Jay Robinson said the hotel would be good for Fairhope, but not at that exact site. He said he had received 44 emails from residents all objecting to the proposal. During the debate, he said two more emails had come in.
“I don’t see the benefits outweighing the public detriment, he said.
The council also tabled action to grant a conservation easement to the Weeks Bay Foundation for the 108-acre Dyas Triangle property. The postponement came after Ken Watson, city attorney for planning and land use, questioned whether state law allows a city to give away municipal property.
Mayor Karin Wilson said the city should retain full ownership of the site. The city was required to buy the land as the result of a lawsuit that cost Fairhope more than $13 million, she said.
“This is a great opportunity it has value. It is part of a municipal use. It might not happen for 20 years down the road, but it’s going to be managed by the city. The city will make the decisions, hopefully with citizen engagement and hopefully be of more value in the future,” Wilson said.
She said one proposed use is to make the site a botanical garden.
“Why in the world would council even want to consider a conservation easement, which would eliminate all future opportunity,” Wilson said.
Yael Girard, executive director of the Weeks Bay Foundation, said the city would retain full ownership of the property if a conservation easement was granted. The easement would restrict development on the property but would allow uses such as hiking trails. Easements are intended to preserve property in a natural state for the future.
We do need to keep this ecosystem intact,” she said. “There is a quality of life here in coastal Alabama that we enjoy. We are looking at a 44 percent growth in Fairhope in the last eight years and these are all things that we have to take into consideration in our long-term land use.”
She said the foundation is working on conservation easements with other cities but has not yet completed any.
Council President Jack Burrell said the issue presented to the council at the meeting was a contract to prepare an easement agreement for the council to consider, not to approve an easement.
“What we’re voting on tonight for a conservation easement is to simply enter into a contract for who would manage that conservation easement,” Burrell said before the vote to table. “We’re not voting on any of the components of the conservation easement, for instance a botanical garden could be included as an allowed use.”
Council members said they would look over the legal issues and study possible conditions for the easement and consider the issue at a future meeting.