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Friday, February 12, 2016

Updated: More Fairhope History Falls To Wrecking Ball

Fairhope, Alabama

A. P. MINNICH HOUSE

(Updated with corrections.)
Before ... .

A familiar house on S. Section Street across from Greers grocery constructed by merchant A.P. Minnich about1912 that appears in many old city photos surrounded by orange/satsuma trees is now being demolished to make way for a new commercial mixed-use project.  (video at bottom)

The fruit was killed by the big freeze of Winter, 1924.

It has been vacant for several years now, but was used as a lawyer's office for a while in the 1990s.

The property is owned by Patrick T. McDonald, according to online county land records -- and is zoned B-2.

The city council has a new ordinance prepared by the Historical Committee before it now to set up a framework so that more grants and tax breaks may be applied for by property owners for preservation, but has so-far failed to act in the face of the usual stiff opposition behind the scenes from the local realtor/development industry.


After.


ca. 1920



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sports Leagues Submitting "Wish Lists"

Fairhope, Alabama



January Recreation Committee meeting.


POSSIBLE NEW RECREATION PROJECTS

The city's various sports teams and leagues (football, youth football, soccer, basketball, tennis, swimming, girls softball, baseball, et al)  are submitting their "wish lists" of  projects to be considered for inclusion in an updated five year plan for recreation construction.

See the current 5 year plan below.
Coach Carter at center.

The annual league summit required by the city ordinance forming the committee, was to be held in late January to receive their lists -- and go over other financial and budget-related data of each organization. (League presidents serve an ex officio members of the committee.)

Ordinance: "A mandatory meeting will be held once yearly in the first quarter of the year with recreational league presidents for the purpose of collecting required financial statements and insurance from league officials, to review budget requests, policy and regulatory changes, and coordinate events between the different leagues." 

Two members of the girls softball league (clk) were present at the January Recreation Committee meeting and expressed their need for more fields at their Barnwell complex to accommodate new tournament requests they have been receiving (Travel Teams).

Fairhope high school's new football coach Carter also attended to convey the needs of that school, whose fields are maintained by the city.

The non profit Pirate Booster Club (clk) also heavily supports school sports and receives yearly donations from the city as well.

The current five year plan in priority order:

1. Construct Manley Rd. soccer complex: Spring 2016 completion date.
2. Volanta Park engineering study to add more fields, parking, improve drainage. Cost $125K
3. Expand Tennis Facilities: Bids are now out for options for six new courts. 
4. Renovate Volanta Park according to #1. This project could cost several million.
5. Improvement/Expansion of disc golf according to #1 -- or possible relocation.
6. Rebuild home and visitors concession stands at Majors Field. $100K. Home side done last year.
7. Construct a splash pad at the pool. $100K.
8. Expand the recreation center. Cost $500K.


OTHER MATTERS DISCUSSED
 
* Restrooms at the Stimpson tennis court locker rooms are now automatically-opened at 6AM and
   closed at 10PM.
* Bids are about to be solicited for visitor press box renovations at the stadium.
* Playground equipment and picnic tables will be replaced at the beach park.
* Bids for the new tennis courts were to be opened in early February (3 options).


ALTERNATE SCHOOL USED FOR PRACTICE?
Alternative school site before demolition

Committee member Charlie Langham said he had been in contact with Baldwin School Board's Cecil Christenberry  about using space adjacent the old alternate school on Twin Beech road as practice fields for various sports: the board seemed receptive to the idea according to Langham.



(Publisher's Note: Sadly, former Fairhope Tennis Club president David Mauritson died in a plane crash in early February. He was a frequent visitor to Recreation Committee meetings to advocate for  his sport - clickhere.)

Mauritson at right last Summer




CURRENT FIVE YEAR PLAN:











Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Exhibit Coming To History Museum






'PEOPLES RAILROAD'


 Director Barrett
Construction of the People's Railroad exhibit at the Museum of History on Section St. downtown should be completed in about a month according to Director Barrett: an exact replica of one of the cars with one set of the original steel wheels.

The Single Tax Corporation built the railroad in 1914 to bring visitors up the hill from the pier to the town center.  Barrett said it would be a great tourist attraction if it still exited today; but the cost of rebuilding it would be prohibitive.

The non-profit Friends of the Museum organization (clk) provided most of the funding and city employees helped install the windows and other trim: Barrett said he intends to do the painting himself, perhaps with help from museum volunteers.


Numerous items of local historical interest are on sale in the Friends' store on the ground floor; all proceeds go to the museum.


Museum Store










Saturday, February 6, 2016

Big Recycling Improvement Plans Hit Roadblock

Fairhope, Alabama

COUNCIL FAILS TO ACT

After almost three years of planning (click), some members of the city's recycling committee expressed disappointment when the city council decided not to proceed with the committee's recommendation to switch to the more-simple single stream method (click): citizens will not be issued blue containers to mix all items in together as had been expected; a recent downturn in the market-cycle for the commodities, associated increased costs, and the problem of contamination and unreliable vendors were some of the reasons cited for changing course.
 
Some of what the city is taking to its main vendor in Loxley appeared to be destined for the county's landfill anyway because it is contaminated, according to Mayor Kant who visited the facility recently: The cost of separating items is prohibitively high for the vendor at the present time.

The council also decided not to proceed with considering the city looking into forming its own recycling facility (a MRF) perhaps in partnership with neighboring communities -- for the same reasons.

Councilman Burell suggested that the blue bins at all city parks be removed as well, since they are "contaminated" (everything thrown in together): destined for the garbage dump.

All civilian city committee members are volunteers and receive no pay.


SAME CURBSIDE SORTING TO CONTINUE

Chairman Anderson at left
Instead, the current model of requiring curbside sorting by citizens themselves into separate container will continue -- and state ADEM grants applied for to fund another campaign  to educate the public about the benefits of recycling.

The commodities market is expect to recover eventually, a usual five year cycle according to Environmental Officer Dale Linder.

In 2013, after the mayor called the city's program "a mess" (click), several new members were appointed to the re-formed committee which was charged with the goal of increasing participation from less than  40% to 80% -- and single stream was their recommendation for getting there.

Instead, now the committee will look into the possibility of purchasing equipment (a baler and skid loader) to facilitate storing the materials in the Pecan Street warehouse until the market improves -- and acquiring some type of carts at some point that may be used for both single stream and separation sorting methods.

Hiring a private company to take over the service is still an option too.

Committee Chairperson Nancy Anderson said citizens were anxiously anticipating getting the blue bins; but the committee would be willing to shift its focus to re-education using the current method.

(Members of several other city committees also privately express frustration with the council's inaction: including the Environmental, Historical Preservation and Pedestrian.)



Friday, February 5, 2016

Some Familiar Businesses Relocating To Downtown

Fairhope, Alabama

Thyme coming here
According to signs posted, the Thyme restaurant currently located on S. Mobile is moving to Section St. across from the museum of history. and the Green Gates garden store on the corner of Volanta Avenue to the old NAPA auto parts building across from city hall.






Green Gates coming here

February 2016 Art Walk

Fairhope, Alabama

Cold winds limited the turnout for the First Friday Art Walk, held a day early because of Mardi Gras parades tomorrow.









Thursday, February 4, 2016

Soccer Complex Falls Behind Schedule

Fairhope, Alabama


Manley Road soccer complex


Because of the frequent rains over the Winter, the new soccer complex has fallen behind schedule: the irrigation system is being completed now and the next step will be laying the grass sod this month -- about 80 tractor-trailer truck loads will me needed.

Some minor erosion has occurred, but very little red clay appears to have run off the site into the Fish River watershed.

The project should still be completed this Spring though,  but will not be used until the annual Fall Halloween tournaments.

(The city of Foley is also currently constructing a similar soccer complex behind Tangier Outlet stores: about the same progress there.)


MORE FUNDING SOUGHT

Representatives from the Fairhope Soccer League (formerly Mobile Soccer League) met recently with Single Tax Corporation directors about providing around $500K to construct concession stands, restrooms and locker rooms: total cost of all will be about $1.2 million according to previous estimates.

The city has budgeted an additional $620K for the project this year.

Exact locations for the remaining facilities have yet to be determined.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Still Another New Fairhope Bank Planned

Fairhope, Alabama



Old Fairhope Courier building


The proliferation of new banks continues with the addition of Pascagoula-based Merchant's and Marine, in the historic 1932-vintage Post Office building on Fairhope Avenue downtown -- according to construction workers there.

The Fairhope Courier Newspaper once operated there: it has been vacant for about the last two years.

Presumably. the building will be preserved and restored but no plans have been submitted yet by the company, according to Planning Director Smith.

Mayor Kant confirmed that bank was looking at coming here, but was not aware of the exact location; he mentioned two others coming as well.

The many new banks could be a leading economic indicator of a new building boom.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

UPDATED: Another Contentious Planning Commission Expected

Fairhope, Alabama

UPDATE; Last night (Monday, Feb 1st)), the Fly Creek PUD amendment was approved (8-1) and the 546 Greeno Rd. rezoning was not (Sugar Kettle restaurant).

Because of a technical, legal loophole by failing to approve or disapprove the  PUD project at its December meeting, the commission did not officially take any formal action then -- and applicant A. Corte was able to submit an entirely new application (new fees too). This  loophole has been applied to other projects in the past as well, according to Times' observations.



Speed's presentation


Designer Stuart Speed of the Leaf River Group presented more details about the proposal this time and Corte himself spoke at length as well.

Mayor Kant and two others changed and voted for the PUD amendment: It still will have to be approved by the city council.  A separate, detailed site plan would have to be approved at some point in the future as well. The new presentation by Speed influenced the mayor and at least one other member, they said.

Also, the Commission proposed re-considering a zoning overly district for N. Greeno road that could eventually allow other uses there than residential. The idea was tried about 5 years ago, but went nowhere.

The entire meeting lasted over 4 hours. 

END OF UPDATE 





HOT-BUTTON GROWTH ISSUES RETURN

After already being heard once at the December meeting, two controversial items return to Monday's  Planning and Zoning Commission meeting agenda Monday at 5PM.

PUD amendment rejected in Dec.
In zoning matters, the commission acts only in an advisory capacity, the city council makes the final decision.

First,  modified amendments to phase two of The Villages at Fly Creek PUD behind the Publix grocery are to be considered: by a narrow 5-4 vote last December  a previous amendment that would have allowed more density (but about the same total number of units) and rental apartments over townhouses/condominiums was rejected -- and never considered by the full city council.
 
At that time, surprisingly Mayor Kant (admittedly a personal friend of property owner A. Corte) in his capacity as ex officio commission member, voted against the proposal because of potential damage to Fly Creek and no detailed storm water drainage plan was presented.

In another twist, councilman Mike Ford (another personal friend of the applicant) but who also voted against it in the first go-round, has been replaced on the commission by councilman Kevin Boone (normal rotation cycle).

Publix grocery
And as always, one of those leading the charge against is curmudgeon, citizen-activist Paul Ripp  who lives on Parker Road, the development's main entrance.  His weekly 'Freaky Friday Ripp Reports' often rant against the mayor or city employees (the latest lays out an elaborate conspiracy theory about this issue) -- and usually advocates for election "clean sweeps" of politicians if they don't do his bidding. He has opposed the so-called "Publix" project from its inception on various grounds, including damaging Fly Creek.

[Ripp is a self-identified "former marine sniper" who was disabled by a head injury (concussion) suffered in an artillery shell explosion in Vietnam in the late 1960s, according to his own acount to a Times reporter some years ago.]

Rock Creek and The Woodlands neighborhood property owners association representatives opposed the first amendment as well at the December meeting -- over traffic concerns and the negative perception of rented apartments versus owner-occupied townhouses (reduced property values).

At the December meeting, some Rock Creekers seemed to confuse this Fly Creek PUD with another one proposed directly across from their neighborhood's main entrance, though.

Some Woodlanders cite this apartment development as one reason to block a proposed walking trial along US 98 past their neighborhood.

Sources tell the Times new information about traffic and drainage may be presented at Monday's meeting, as well as clarifications of state law defining the differences between apartments and town house -- but such information is never made available to the general public beforehand.

Engineers for the project and city staff counter that since the new plan's "footprint" (impervious surface area) is less than the existing plan, storm water runoff into Fly Creek will actually be considerably less; and since the total number of housing units is about the same, traffic counts will not be any greater either.

(Sources say some commission members have been coming under immense pressure to change their votes, both ways.)


 COMMERCIALIZATION OF N. GREENO REVISITED
December meeting

Also, a request by Jon McMurrary to rezone the property at 546 North Greeno road from residential to commercial will be heard formally: some potential business owners who may want to locate a restaurant there brought it up informally the first time in January but this time the property owner will make a formal request.

Councilman Jack Burrell is spearheading the effort behind the scenes to make N. Greeno a "commercial corridor" (click) for his constituents there, notably Mr. and Mrs. Green who have been trying for years to rezone their  Green Nurseries property across the street to commercial.

He was instrumental in getting a commercial PUD approved on the Hayek property (click) about a half mile north last Fall; but that proposal still must be approved by the full city council.

Opponents worry about making the city's entrance like Mobile's Airport Boulevard and the traffic congestion it could bring.

546 N. Greeno


COMPREHENSIVE PLAN UPDATE MEETING SCHEDULED

Updated comprehensive plan
The latest, final version (click) of the updated 183 page comprehensive growth plan effort that began almost three years ago has received its last "tweaks" according to City Planner Smith, and is still posted online for review: it will be screened at a joint session of the City Council and Planning Commission on February 25th at 5:30. (unless plans change again).

Several town hall meetings were held for citizens in 2014 and meetings have been continuing with council members and financial "stakeholders" since then behind the scenes.

The eventual four-laning of parts of east Morphy Ave. and Gayfer Rd. are some of its interesting findings.

The N. Greeno issue is likely to come up again then as well: changes to zoning there may be contingent upon the update.

Smith said the Planning Commission is expected to take immediate action at that meeting (approve/disapprove) and the City Council may choose to act immediately as well.

The Comprehensive Plan is used only as a guide, not legally binding itself -- but about about two years ago the mayor criticized the city council for never enacting the tough legislation to successfully implement the current village plan. (click)


Councilman Burrell

Airport Blvd. in Mobile

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dogs Lead Owners In Annual Mardis Gras Parade

Fairhope, Alabama




MYSTIC MUTTS OF REVELRY 

Dogs and their owners paraded through the streets of downtown Fairhope today to benefit The Haven no-kill animal shelter. (video at bottom)