Residents voice opposition of planned development

Published 8:11 am Wednesday, August 22, 2007

By By Adam Prestridge
An old fashion straw poll may be all the developers of a proposed planned community in Atmore need to decide if they will continue rezoning efforts for its construction.
Dozens of concerned residents filed into the auditorium at Atmore City Hall Tuesday afternoon to voice their opinions during a public hearing for the development planned near Medical Park Drive and McRae Street.
Only a select few of those on hand were for the development, which was evident following a voluntary straw poll that revealed a mere seven people in favor of the project, which is similar to a garden home community with slightly larger lots, and more than 25 residents opposed.
"The straw poll tells us the community doesn't want it," former builder Jim Stagg said. "We are at the point of chucking the whole idea. It's dead in the water."
The idea of the planned community came from Atmore realtor Bill Beck. Beck enlisted the help of Stagg and his brother, David, who recently purchased property near the proposed development. The Stagg brothers have plans of building an Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) homes on each of their properties and Beck thought the type of homes were a need for Atmore.
"We came here to build two retirement homes, one for me and one for him," Jim Stagg said.
An AAC home is a home that is fire proof, thermally superior and capable of withstanding 200-mile winds. Beck's proposed community, which would be called the Olde Pecan Grove Community, would feature the same type hous es with smaller yards for easy upkeep. The land purchased for the community is zoned R-1, which requires more acreage than the proposed 1,200- to 1,500-square-foot homes require.
Tuesday's informal public hearing was used as a gauge on how surrounding residents feel about changing the zoning of the 13.2 acres from R-1 residential to R-2, which can be used for Planned Unit Develops (PUD) such as Olde Pecan Grove and other such experimental communities.
"We want housing that is affordable, housing that is safe, housing that is thermally efficient and housing that had an uninterruptible power supply, so in the event of a storm, you would never lose power," Beck said.
According to Beck, a builder's covenants will require that all the proposed homes he built in the community would be built to AAC standards with steel frames and metal roofs. Each home would also be required to have at least a one-car garage, but no larger than a two-car garage. Even though the development has been pitched for retired seniors looking for homes and yards with low maintenance, Beck said the homes could also be sold to young couples starting out.
"We want to make that property a showplace for this part of Alabama," Beck said.
Beck also said that a homeowner's association would be developed so the residents of the community could govern themselves. Residents will be required to pay a monthly homeowner's membership fee required by the covenants, which would provide each resident with lawn care, landscaping of common areas, some maintenance to the exterior of the homes and interior and exterior pest control. Beck added that none of the 44 proposed homes could be rented and that each would be valued at least $144,000 including lots valued at $18,000.
"The benefits we expect from this is to raise the tax base for the city," Beck said.
With all that said, only a few residents sided with the developers.
"When we lived in Oklahoma City, we lived in a development of this type," Donna Stewart said. "There was a homeowner's association and we lived in a 1,500-square-foot unit for more than eight years. Of the 18 places we've lived in our married life that ranks near the top. I know that everybody is not interested in something like this, but for those of us that are, is there room in Atmore for us to have something like this."
Stewart's husband, Leon, seconded his wife's sentiments.
"Would this project be a hindrance or an asset to traveling that road?" Leon Stewart said. "I would consider it to be an asset in a sense that Atmore is a beautiful place for retired people to live for a couple of reasons. Retired people have money and the second thing is that they are going to spend their money in this town. I see Atmore as a beautiful place for retirement and in my own opinion, this project would be an asset to this town."
Sandra Johnson was one of many opponents of the proposed community.
"This sounds like it could be good, but if it's rezoned and that doesn't make it, it seems like the floodgates would be opened for something that would be a lot less desirable than what we've been presented here," she said.
Robert White also expressed his opinion of the proposed project.
"I do not, under no circumstances, want to see the zoning change," he said.
Some community members like Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Emilie Mims were divided on the issue.
"I understand everyone's concerns," Mims said. "But I would like to say as part of the chamber of commerce, we've got a lot of elderly people coming out of Florida, good citizens looking at this community. When you say there are properties all over town for sale, that's not necessarily what they are looking for. They are looking for more of a controlled community, not only for the elderly, but also with small houses and small lots, garden apartment type homes. I can certainly understand the idea of downscaling, I'm sitting on three, almost four acres by myself now and believe me, the idea of a small house with a very small yard is attractive. I personally don't think this piece of property is the right piece of property for this. I think it's going to be crammed in there right up to those houses that are already along the perimeter of McRae and Medical Park Drive. But I do say that we need these types of apartments or small housing subdivisions that have the security of being gated in our community, but maybe not in this location."
Following the meeting, Beck said he is unsure of any further actions he will take on getting the property rezoned. After being questioned during the meeting on how much of a profit would be made on the project, Jim Stagg said that the projected profit after the community is built out is $130,000. He said that $1 million would be needed for infrastructure including clearing the land for lots, which each would include gas-powered generators, underground utilities and drainage and fiber optics; curb, guttering and road development, which would include divided streets with medians; six pocket parks with ponds fed by rainwater runoff that would be filtered at the street drains and a six-foot high chain link fence armed with a security system and hidden by decorative trees.
"There is no way the city's planning commission is going to vote for something the residents are against," Jim Stagg said.
As for the developers' next step, it is unknown.
"Since Bill feels so strongly about this project, I'm sure he'll find another place to locate it," Stagg said.
Beck said an informational class would be held on ACC homes at 7 p.m. tonight in the main office of the Atmore campus at Jefferson Davis Community College.

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