Saturday, October 28, 2006

New Turquoise Towers In Orange Beach OK

The following article further shows how the legal system is so unpredictable.

Judge, who ruled in July that covenants blocking Turquoise Place East were unenforceable, said last week that homeowners aren't owed compensation

Published By Mobile Press Register
Friday, October 27, 2006
Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH -- After a legal battle that lasted more than two years, a Baldwin County Circuit judge's ruling has cleared the way for developer Larry Wireman to build his Turquoise Place East condominiums, a planned two-tower companion to his burgeoning pair of Gulf-front high-rises called Turquoise Place.

At issue was whether 1950s-era restrictive covenants that limited nine lots between Turquoise Place and the 11-story Island House Hotel to single-family homes were still relevant on Orange Beach's high-rise-lined beaches and, if not, whether owners of those covenants should be compensated.

Presiding Circuit Judge James H. Reid ruled in July that the covenants were unenforceable because the surrounding neighborhood had changed so much since the restrictions were put in place between 1955 and 1966 that their original purpose was lost.

"The enforcement of the covenants would work a hardship on the property owners because it would require them to maintain single-family residences in an area that is no longer suitable for that purpose due to extensive development in the area, zoning changes, and changes in the building codes," Reid wrote. "The defendants' attempt to burden the property with obsolete restrictions against the unanimous will of the property owners would be inequitable."

Reid left open the possibility that the defendants who claimed to own the covenants could be compensated, but last week ruled that they had failed to prove why or what they were owed and therefore weren't entitled to any payment.

Those defendants are: Island House Hotel; Sea Shell Inc., through which Bay Minette developer Thomas Mitchell owns half of the hotel; and AmSouth Bank, which represents the estate of Carl T. and Jessie A. Martin, who established the restrictions on what was then their Gulf-front property.

Reid also rejected the defendants' request for a new trial.

That decision, pending an appeal, clears the way for Wireman to build Turquoise Place East. Mirroring the western Turquoise Place towers that are already under construction, one building will reach 310 feet while another will top out at around 370 feet, according to plans.

Between the four luxury high-rises, 882 units are planned.

Wireman did not return calls seeking comment this week, but in early September told the Press-Register that only a few units in the first tower remained available and that prices for the condos started at $1.5 million.

Reid's ruling also will allow owners of the nine lots to complete sales to Wireman, which will make them multimillionaires. During a two-day nonjury trial in December, it was disclosed that the developer was paying each of the owners $55,000 a waterfront foot. The lots are generally 100 feet wide, which would mean a sales price of $5.5 million for each owner.

Currently only three houses remain on the 928-foot stretch of beach, the others having already been moved or so badly damaged in 2004's Hurricane Ivan that they were demolished.

"I think it's safe to say that the property owners were very frustrated with how long this process has taken," said Daniel Blackburn, who represents Wireman and the owners.

Walter Cook, who represented AmSouth and the Martin estate, said he couldn't discuss the case without first consulting his clients, but did say, "We are considering our options at this point and looking at taking an appeal."

Lawyers involved in the case said that the defendants have 42 days from Reid's Oct. 12 ruling to appeal the decision.

Robert Wills, the lawyer for Island House Hotel and Mitchell, did not return calls seeking comment.

During the December 2005 trial, Wills and Cook argued that their clients should be paid if the restrictive covenants were set aside. At the time of the trial, Wireman said that the defendants had asked him to pay $22 million for the covenants. Lawyers for the defendants claimed their clients would settle for $10 million.

Mitchell testified that in 1999 his Sea Shell Inc. had paid the Martin Estate $25,000 for the restrictions over two lots to the hotel's immediate west. The estate retained the covenants over the other seven.

He said the point of buying the covenants was to preserve sunset views from the building and limit the number of people using the surrounding beach. The Martin Estate contended that high-rise construction on the lots would devalue property it owned across the beach highway.

Reid, however, concluded in his ruling that the estate failed to provide evidence of its claims and said of the hotel's concerns: "a decline in the hotel's future occupancy rate and profits due specifically to development on the hotel's west side is speculative."

Ft. Morgan Owners Seeking Relief

The following article describes the mess created by
Cobra and I fully support their efforts.

Residents look to Congress and state's insurer of last resort for help in getting reasonable insurance rates

Published By Mobile Press Register
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Staff Reporter

Fort Morgan residents unable to obtain federal flood insurance because they live in Coastal Barrier Resources Act zones are hoping that a bill signed by President Bush this month removing a Georgia island from the law's oversight foreshadows the possibility that their south Baldwin County properties can also be exempted.

Emboldened by the passage of a bill to exclude Georgia's Jekyll Island from CBRA zones, a grassroots campaign has begun to exclude Fort Morgan property from the law. The island, which sits just north of Jacksonville, Fla., was written out of the act when the president signed a bill -- nearly two years in the making -- on Oct. 13.

Those local homeowners -- who have been forced to pay annual premiums in the tens of thousands of dollars or even forego coverage as private insurers retreat from Alabama's beaches -- are also hopeful that the state's insurer of last resort, the Alabama Insurance Underwriting Association, will lift restrictions that prevent them from buying wind coverage from the so-called beach pool.

Along the Fort Morgan peninsula, a narrow spit of sand extending about 19 miles from Gulf Shores into Mobile Bay, nearly half of the land is affected by the 1982 Coastal Barrier Resources Act.

That law aimed to conserve ecologically important lands susceptible to storm damage along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts by eliminating the availability of subsidies that might encourage development, be they money for roads and sewers or federal flood insurance.

On Friday morning, Kathy Taylor, a Fort Morgan resident who was recently offered flood insurance on her family's home with an annual premium of $12,500, spoke before the beach pool's board at its annual fall meeting at the Perdido Beach Resort in Orange Beach. While the beach pool doesn't offer flood insurance, it could provide wind damage policies available to others along the coast that are less costly than those offered by the few private carriers writing policies along the Gulf of Mexico.

Taylor, one of the organizers of a campaign to remove Coastal Barrier Resources Act restrictions from Fort Morgan, said she told beach pool board members that the exorbitant insurance premiums being charged in CBRA zones are thwarting home sales and could lead to foreclosures.

"We're not asking for subsidized rates," she said in an interview later. "We're just asking for solid insurance rates that won't drive us into bankruptcy or foreclosure."

Foley Mayor Tim Russell, who is the beach pool board's treasurer and president of Baldwin Mutual Insurance Co., said he asked the board to consider lifting its ban on covering CBRA zone residents.

The beach pool had originally decided to exclude CBRA property owners because it didn't want to run counter to law and encourage development where the federal government did not want it, Russell said. But with private insurance prices so steep and often unavailable, Russell said the beach pool board will reconsider that decision based on whether homes were built before the law took effect and if other insurance options are available.

"They are going to study it very extensively and we hope to have an answer in the months ahead," Russell said Friday afternoon.

In the meantime, residents are pushing Alabama's congressional delegation to draft a law lifting the CBRA designation from Fort Morgan.

A letter to U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner and U.S. Sens. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile, and Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, dated Oct. 24 and signed by more than 100 Fort Morgan property owners asks the lawmakers to consider the Jekyll Island law as precedence.

Their reasoning: Jekyll Island was let loose because Georgia, which owns the entire island, mandates 65 percent remain in a natural state, which backers of that bill say offers plenty of protection for the barrier island.

Fort Morgan residents claim that of the peninsula's 9,000-odd acres, nearly 5,900 are conserved as part of the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and various state conservation areas.

Gene Cobb, who wrote the letter, said Friday that residents don't necessarily want access to subsidized flood insurance as much as they want the CBRA designation removed, which is a "stigma" and scares off private insurers.

"We're going to have to go through Congress and convince them that we don't want a handout and that we just want them to get ... out of the way so we can get some commercial carriers down there," said Cobb, president of the property owners' association for the Morgantown subdivision where the CBRA zones divide neighbors.

Cobb, who also has a home in the Atlanta area, said he was trying to put Bonner's staff in touch with those of the Georgia lawmakers who sponsored the Jekyll Island bill.

Bonner, a Mobile Republican, said Friday afternoon that while he hasn't received the letter yet, he has talked with affected residents and with his peers on the state's congressional delegation. He said that the first order of business would be to determine if errors were made in the original mapping that put some homeowners in CBRA zones while excluding their neighbors.

Also he said he would have to research the Jekyll Island situation and another recent CBRA exclusion involving parts of Grayton Beach in the Florida Panhandle to see if there was precedent for removing populated areas from CBRA.

Democrat Vivian Beckerle, a Mobile attorney who is opposing Bonner in the Nov. 7 election, did not reply to a message seeking comment Friday.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Orange Beach Beach Mouse Final Ruling

Published By Mobile Press Register
Friday, October 13, 2006
Staff Reporter

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service on Thursday published a final ruling that will designate nearly 6,200 acres along Alabama and Florida Panhandle beaches as critical habitat for three endangered beach mouse species.

Of the three species, only the Perdido Key beach mouse lives in Alabama.

The economic effects of the Wildlife Service's decision to expand protected acreage is expected by the federal agency to range from $93.4 million to $174.9 million over 20 years due to development restrictions placed on property that carries the critical habitat tag, according to a news release. But Florida will see most of that impact because the property being set aside for the Perdido Key beach mouse in Alabama is primarily state-owned.

In Alabama, 147 acres become critical habitat in Orange Beach and 114 acres of that are within the Gulf State Park property at Alabama Point, said Janet Mizzi, deputy field supervisor for the Service's Panama City, Fla., field office.

While the Wildlife Service doesn't believe the Perdido Key beach mouse is currently living on Gulf State Park property, government biologists aren't certain because no scientific study has been done, Mizzi said.

"We do believe they occupy the private lands to the east of the park," she said.

Most of the private 33 acres of critical habitat have already been developed with Gulf-front high-rises and beach houses, but the frontal dunes between the structures and the surf as well as scrub habitat to the north are thought to contain the endangered species' burrows, Mizzi said.

She said the critical habitat designation could preclude the owners of those designated lands from building bigger structures than they previously have, which became an issue after Hurricane Ivan wrecked many of Perdido Key's older beach homes and wood-frame condominiums in September 2004.

In total, 1,300 acres are now designated as critical habitat for the Perdido Key beach mouse, most of which is on the Florida portion of the key in Escambia County.

The Wildlife Service's ruling also affects the Choctawhatchee beach mouse, which will get 2,404 acres in Florida's Okaloosa, Walton and Bay counties, and the St. Andrew beach mouse, which gets 2,490 acres in the Panhandle counties of Bay and Gulf.

The decision came in response to two separate federal court rulings requiring the Wildlife Service to re-examine and expand the protected habitat needed for the beach mouse's continued survival. One order came from a federal judge in the Southern District of Alabama. That decision also forced the agency to redraw the critical habitat of the Alabama beach mouse, which lives in the coastal dunes of Gulf Shores and along the Fort Morgan peninsula.

The other, affecting the species that live exclusively along the Panhandle, originated with a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, according to the release

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Published By Mobile Press Register
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Staff Reporter

GULF SHORES -- City officials during a Monday work session discussed the potential acquisition of two waterfront parcels -- one on Little Lagoon, the other on the Intracoastal Waterway -- that would expand adjacent parks.

The first, which Councilwoman Carolyn Doughty brought up, sits on the eastern edge of the city's Canal Park, a public boat launch under the Alabama 59 bridge.

The property, Doughty said, is owned by the Lillian Callaway family partnership. A representative of the partnership, Fairhope accountant Xavier Hartmann, is offering the tract for $3 million but would entertain offers, Doughty said Monday.

Hartmann's office confirmed Tuesday that the partnership was selling the tract, which is comprised of four lots and is 176 feet wide and 267 feet deep.

"I just wanted to put it on the table and see how the rest of the group felt," Doughty said. "Is that number something we'd like to look at? Would we like to have it? Where would it fall on our priority list?"

Doughty said that besides expanding the municipal park, the property would be a good landing spot for a high-speed ferry proposed to carry passengers from Mobile to Gulf Shores.

Public Works Director Chuck Hamilton said he visited the property recently with a ferry landing site in mind.

"It's an ideal site in my mind -- not perfect, but it's a good site for a high-speed ferry," Hamilton said, adding that the dilapidated wall separating the land from the canal would have to be replaced and some dredging may be necessary to make the small harbor work as a landing.

"Even if they never do a high-speed ferry, the city would have waterfront on the Intracoastal Waterway," Doughty said. "And right now as things have kind of slowed down a little bit, it might not be a bad time."

In recent years land along the shipping channel has sky-rocketed in value as developers have bought up large tracts and proposed high-end marina-based resorts. While some of those projects are well under way, including nearby Bon Secour Village and Bama Bayou and The Wharf in Orange Beach, some have been placed on hold as resort real estate sales have slowed.
"When that waterway develops as it's planned, I think that could be key to that whole area," Councilman Philip Harris said of a ferry landing.

Mayor G.W. "Billy" Duke III told council members that he and City Administrator Ernie Smith would engage the sellers and possibly order an appraisal on the property.

After that discussion, Councilman Robert Craft said that he had recently been contacted by officials with the Alabama Sheriff's Boys & Girls Ranch who are interested in selling the organization's parcel on the south side of Little Lagoon.

According to Baldwin County tax records, Alabama Boys & Girls Ranch Inc. owns a 100-foot by 175-foot residential lot at 1640 W. Beach Blvd. that backs up to Little Lagoon. The appraised value assigned to the property last year, which includes a large beach house, is $469,200, according to the Revenue Commissioner's online database.

Tax maps show that the property sits adjacent to the eastern edge of the city's Little Lagoon Pass park.

Again, Craft said he wasn't certain where such an acquisition would rank among the city's priorities, but said federal money could help with a purchase.

"The city's made some really astute moves in the past using federal funds to acquire waterfront," Craft said. "Where we are now, it'd certainly be worth looking into both of these sites."

Duke and Smith both said they would check to see if federal grants, particularly those related to public transportation for the waterway property, were available for such purchases.

Most recently, Gulf Shores finalized the purchase of a dilapidated gas station and boat launch with 300 feet on the north shore of Little Lagoon in August. Mo's Landing, as the property is known, cost the city $3.5 million and will be transformed into a public park and boat launch, city officials have said.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

EMC offers $1.6 Million to Orange Beach

If deal for 20 acres is OK'd, Orange Beach would have its first tenant of beach express business park

Published By Mobile Press Register
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Staff Reporter
ORANGE BEACH -- Baldwin EMC has offered to pay $1.6 million for 20 acres at the city's yet-to-be-developed business park on the Foley Beach Express.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the deal Tuesday, though the body already voted unanimously in February to pursue either a long-term lease or sale with the electric cooperative and city officials said last week that council members had pre-authorized a sale to be negotiated at the $1.6 million price.

Orange Beach bought the property as part of an 80-acre, $4.85 million purchase last November with hopes of developing the property as a business park and extending the city's northern boundary to the borders of Foley and Gulf Shores.

At $4.85 million, the city wound up paying $60,625 per acre in November. By selling 20 acres to EMC for $1.6 million, or $80,000 per acre, the city will see a net profit of $387,500 on that part of the property.

Karen Moore, vice president of member services and public relations for EMC, said Friday that the cooperative has "outgrown" its Gulf Shores office, which services the southern end of the county. Obtaining the 20 acres at the business park will not only enable that expansion but, with the location on higher ground north of the Intracoastal Waterway, will also allow EMC to "improve our disaster response plan," Moore said.

City Attorney Wanda J. Cochran, who has been negotiating the deal with EMC officials, said at a council work session last week that the cooperative had expressed a desire to close on the property by the end of the year in order to start construction in January.

One of the terms of the deal, should it be approved, will be that if EMC doesn't build its facility, it would have to sell the land back to Orange Beach for the $1.6 million price, City Administrator Jeff Moon said.

"The intent was not for them to be able to flip it," Moon told council members Monday.

The EMC parcel is at the middle of the business park, with access to Roscoe Road, which forms the eastern boundary of the city's property, according to a plat provided by Orange Beach.

North of the 20 acres EMC is pursuing are 20 acres the city has set aside to be the eventual home of a medical facility.

To the south is five acres that city officials have said they would like to use as the site of a municipal emergency management facility and 10 acres that another company is considering locating upon, city officials said.

Moon said Friday that he met that morning with representatives from that company, which he cannot yet identify, and they have expressed "strong interest" in the parcel.

Should that company reach an agreement with Orange Beach, most of the usable 80 acres would be spoken for, Moon said. The property plat shows about 16 acres of wetlands at its southern end, which will be preserved, and miscellaneous acreage for roadways and other uses.

Earlier in last week's work session, the council told Business and Industrial Development Board President Allen McElroy that his appointed panel should continue its work drafting covenants that will guide the park's development.

"Ultimately, it will be the entrance to Orange Beach, so we want it to look nice," Moon said Friday, adding that it will be heavily landscaped and the appearance of the buildings will be strictly controlled by the covenants.

Council members also told McElroy that the board, which is responsible for lining up the city's purchase of the park, to go ahead and look for more property to the south or east of the 80 acres to facilitate expansion.