By Guy Busby
FAIRHOPE – After two recent requests for mixed commercial and residential developments in the downtown Central Business District, the Fairhope City Council is moving forward with plans to place some restrictions on homes in the commercial area.
The City Council voted Monday, July 26 to approve the first reading of an ordinance requiring at that at least 50 percent of the ground floor of a development in the CBD be commercial. The ordinance will come up for final approval later this month.
Hunter Simmons, city planning director, said the Fairhope Planning Commission also unanimously voted to recommend that the City Council approve the ordinance.
“The intent of what we were doing is for mixed use buildings in the CBD, not single-family,” he said.
Councilman Jimmy Conyers said CBD zoning was intended to promote businesses downtown but allow some limited residential use as well. He said more developers are trying to build residences in the area.
“The main intent of this has been to preserve that downtown CBD,” Conyers said. “Right now, residential construction is very lucrative and very popular, but if we allow the CBD to be completely built out with residential units, it would actually, ultimately, squeeze out the businesses, which is, ironically, why people want to be downtown. So, this is just an attempt to maintain the integrity of the CBD.”
Councilman Kevin Boone said the traditional use of downtown buildings has been to have commercial property on the ground floor and residences on the upper floors. He asked why the ordinance could not require more ground floor space to be commercial.
Simmons said that residential units on a property also must have parking spaces on the ground floor, so some areas have to be designated for that purposed so that residents will not take up parking spots on downtown streets.
He said city officials are still working to find ways to meet commercial and residential needs in downtown Fairhope.
“So, we do acknowledge that this is a quick step. I hope we can get a better plan and to address this in the comp plan, but we at least want to ensure that some floor of the ground floor is commercial and we retain that street frontage that makes Fairhope what it is,” Simmons said.
At the July 12 City Council meeting, two developers had requested approval for projects on Magnolia Avenue in the CBD that had more than 50 percent of the ground floor space designated residential.
One proposal for a 20-unit development with 16 residential units was voted down by the council. Council members said the development did not have adequate parking for the proposed sites.
A second request was approved. Officials said three of the four ground floor entrances on Magnolia Avenue would be for commercial units, although the commercial space in the entire building would take up only 13 percent of the property.