Regency Place passes planning commission revote

By: Crystal Cole/ Islander Editor
Posted 10/11/18

After months of public outcry and a revisiting of the site plan by Gulf Shores Planning Commission, Regency Place apartments’ site plan was once again approved.

Before the meeting began, …

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Regency Place passes planning commission revote

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After months of public outcry and a revisiting of the site plan by Gulf Shores Planning Commission, Regency Place apartments’ site plan was once again approved.

Before the meeting began, Chairman Robert Steiskal said the previous resolution approving the development was null and void and that the commission would be taking another vote on the property. 

Planning Director Andy Bauer read the findings again, with the added conditions to consider for approval. Those conditions were:

1. Building permit plans shall substantially comply with the approved site plans in terms of building material, design and architecture, common area amenities and improvements, landscaping and buffering, etc. 

2. The applicant shall pay a $19,116.00 fee in lieu of constructing the required 6’ sidewalk within the Regency Road right-of-way.  The fee shall be paid prior to the issuance of a Building Permit.

3. No land disturbing or Building Permit will be issued until tree preservation fencing is placed around the 20’-30’ undisturbed landscape buffers along the east and west property lines. Signage shall be placed along the undisturbed natural landscape buffers to protect from future damage by residents.

4. Placement of fencing along the eastern property line shall be agreed upon by City staff in an effort to preserve trees prior to installation of the fence. 

5. No vacation rental licenses shall be allowed at Regency Place Apartments. 

6. The applicant shall submit an open space management plan in accordance with Article 6-14 of the Zoning Ordinance.

7. Relocate the proposed driveway to Regency Place Apartments to align with or be north of the existing Regency Club Condos access driveway.

8. The proposed driveway shall be located to provide required minimum intersection sight distance. Any potential sight distance obstructions within the right of way of Regency Road shall be cleared to provide required intersection sight distance. Removal of any obstructions shall be approved by city staff and field located prior to the issuance of any permits. 

9. The landscape buffer between Regency Place Condominiums and The Enclave at Oak Hill Condominiums shall be 20 feet. 

10. The height of building number two shall be 3 stories.

Stuart Povall, the architect behind the apartments said he would comply with all the conditions except 7, 9 and 10 because they were directly in conflict with what was allowed by right on the land.

“For that reason, we intend to keep that buffer at 5-10 feet as it’s currently designed,” Povall said. “We are currently zoned R-4. Per your ordinance, R-4 allows buildings up to four stories in height. We meet the requirements of that ordinance.”

Pete Sims, a citizen vocal in the opposition to the development, asked to present information to the commission ahead of the vote. Steiskal told him no, and Sims asked if he was out of order before yielding the floor to the vote. 

The nay votes came from commission members Philip Harris, Frank Malone and Jennifer Guthrie.

Rewind

The Gulf Shores Planning Commission heard from residents as well at the architect of Regency Place Apartments in a special meeting last month. 

The meeting began with 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. 

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.” 

The Regency Place apartment complex has been a lightning rod of controversy since it first came to the public’s attention in June. 

The proposed development would bring a 206-apartment complex near the downtown area and has already been approved by the Planning Commission. Citizens packed out meetings to ask the council about the implications of drainage, development and what was deemed as an insufficient traffic study.

Craft said he did legal research from one of the previous meetings of the residents to the City Council. He said so far in this process, the City Council has had no role.

“If it’s approved by right and approved then the Planning Commission has done their job,” Craft said. “I told you I’d do a little digging to see what after the fact could be done. Under the zoning ordinance, site plan approval is the sole responsibility of the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission has no authority to deny approval to a project that is allowed by right under the zoning ordinance and that is otherwise in compliance with the zoning ordinance standards of approval.”

Craft said the developer has confirmed in writing that he has no interest in engaging in short-term rentals, something many against the project fear will not hold true. 

After weeks of hearing from many concerned and agitated citizens, the Gulf Shores City Council and Craft sent the highly-debated apartment complex back to planning commission for site review. 

Craft said on advice from the city attorney, he sent a letter to the chairman of the planning commission asking the body to revisit Regency Place’s application.

“I have also noted that, while under the zoning ordinance a public hearing is not required during the site plan review process, given the active public discussion of this project a public hearing by the planning commission would very probably be beneficial,” Craft said. “Without expressing any view that the approval given by the planning commission was or was not in error, the city attorney has observed that the written planning commission approval resolution failed to set out the express findings and conclusions on the suitability of the project as specifically required by Section 3-3.E. of the zoning ordinance.”

That section of the zoning ordinance states: The granting or denial of approval by written resolution of the reviewing authority shall include not only conclusions but also finding of fact related to the specific proposal and shall set forth the reasons for the grant, with or without changes and/or special conditions or for disapproval, and said resolution shall set forth with particularity in what respects the plan would or would not be in the public interest including but not limited to findings of fact and conclusions on the following:

1. In what respects the plan is or is not consistent with the comprehensive plan and the purpose and intent of the applicable district.

2. In what respects the plan is or is not in conformance with all applicable regulations of the applicable district.

3. In what respects the plan is or is not in conformance with the city's subdivision regulations and all other applicable city requirements including design, adequacy and construction of streets, drainage, utilities and other essential services or facilities.

4. In what respects the plan is or is not consistent with good design standards in respect to all external relationships, including but not limited to:

a. Relationship to adjacent properties;

b. Internal circulation, both vehicular and pedestrian;

c. Design of access and egress and impact on adjacent thoroughfares;

d. Disposition and use of open space, provision of screening and/or buffering, and preservation of existing natural features including trees, wetlands and dunes;

e. Size and apparent bulk of structures;

f. Building arrangements both between buildings in the proposed development and those on abutting sites.

5. In what respects the plan is or is not in conformance with City policy in respect to sufficiency of ownership, guarantees for completion of all required Improvements and, if private, the guarantees for continued maintenance.

“Citizens have strongly expressed their concern that the planning commission did not properly evaluate the external impact of the project in the process of giving its approval,” Craft said. “Pending receipt of a planning commission resolution satisfying Section 3-3.E., the city will be unable to issue any building or land disturbance permits to the applicant.” 

Despite that action, citizens have still attended city council meetings in throngs, and the standing-room only crowds continued to hound the council about the development.