Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fort Morgan Rezoning Would Allow Condo Tower

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Staff Reporter

GULF SHORES -- Clearing the way for a marina and condo development on the Fort Morgan peninsula, the City Council has voted to rezone about 8 acres along Mobile Bay.

The change allows Joe Raley Builders and a group of investors to move forward with their plans, first proposed in August, to redevelop the existing Fort Morgan Marina and build a condo tower next to it.

Though specific designs for the property will have to be approved in a separate process that begins next month, the developers have said they want to build a 12-story, 126-unit condominium called Water's Edge just east of the renovated and renamed Gulf Shores Marina.

Previously, the developers had sought permission to build a 15-story condo with 204 units to go with the marina, which would include 150 wet slips, a restaurant, dock store and a dry storage facility that could hold up to 130 boats.

Prior to voting for the rezoning, Mayor G.W. "Billy" Duke III said that negotiations with the developers had been arduous with questions first about whether once-dry-but-now-submerged land could be counted in calculations to figure out how big the project could be and then what zoning was originally assigned to the eight lots that comprise the property.

The mayor touted the developers' willingness to lessen the scope of their proposal but said that the rezoning did not automatically mean the project was a done deal.

"They have dropped their original density request about 60 percent; the height has come down also," Duke said. "The next process they would go through is to be just as important if not more than this one."

Following a 45-minute public hearing Monday night in which three Fort Morgan residents said they opposed the rezoning and three men, two of whom were investors in the development, spoke in favor of the project, the council voted 4-1 to approve the changes.

Councilwoman Carolyn Doughty cast the lone "no" vote while Councilman Joe Garris, who works for the developers at the existing marina, abstained from voting.

Doughty said she opposed the rezoning because Gulf Shores officials pledged in 2003 when they annexed Fort Morgan Road -- allowing adjacent property owners to join the city -- not to allow the peninsula to be overdeveloped.

"We spent an awful lot of time working (on zoning studies) to see what was livable, tolerable and would not affect the environment out there," she said. "I just personally haven't found a reason that it needs to go from nine to 15 units per acre."

Under recently enacted city zoning for the Fort Morgan peninsula, the developers could have built a multi-family building with up to nine units per acre, city officials said. The rezoning will allow 126 condos on approximately 8.2 acres, which works out to about 15 units per acre.

"This property does not need to be rezoned to be developed with marinas and with condominiums," said Martin Rollins, who owns two homes next to the proposed tower site. "We don't see public benefit to be gained from this rezoning request."

Said Fort Morgan resident Bonnie Lowry: "There's no objection to building, the objection is to overbuilding."

George Sanders, a local developer in favor of the proposal, said that before Raley rebuilt the marina and began planning a complete redevelopment, "it was a dilapidated piece of junk."

"He tore it down, has started trying to build a new one with all these people kicking and screaming and hollering every step of the way," Sanders said, speaking of the project's opponents. "He's had every obstacle known to man."