Fairhope considers plans for triangle

Officials want balance between preserving nature and public access


FAIRHOPE – City officials said they are working to find the best way to preserve the natural environment of the Dyas Triangle while making the site accessible to the public.

Plans being developed by the city call for the 108-acre site to become a municipal nature park. The Fairhope Environmental Advisory Board has proposed possible deed restrictions for the site to preserve the natural setting.

At the Nov. 22 Fairhope City Council work session, council members said they want to preserve the environment of the site, but do not want to commit to permanent restrictions that would affect the public’s access to that natural setting.

“We want to be somewhat restrictive, but leave enough flexibility for the future,” Council President Jimmy Conyers said. “We haven’t finalized our plan for what that looks like. So, we’ve got to allow flexibility in the deed restrictions to cover anything that we think might be necessary.”

One proposed restriction would prohibit buildings on the site, Mayor Sherry Sullivan said.

“We had talked about the possibility of maybe a learning center or a nature center,” Sullivan said. “There may be some educational kiosks that we want to put in there. I have no idea what constitutes a building. So, I think we have to be really careful about being that restrictive.”

Sullivan said restrictions are also proposed on commercial uses of the property.

“We said OK, but define commercial,” Sullivan said. “They said that would be anything that would be related to a gathering, anything that requires fees or permits. So, if we did do trails on that property and the biking association came and wanted to do a biking association competition or whatever, and we charge them like the rental facilities, in the use agreement, is that a commercial use?”

Councilman Jack Burrell said private events are sometimes allowed at city facilities. He said officials should determine whether any deed restrictions would prohibit some uses.

“If we do have something like a botanical garden there, we might want to rent the space for a wedding,” Burrell said. “Does that prevent that? I think we still need to have a little work on that language to spell out that.”

Councilman Corey Martin said he believed board members wanted the commercial use restriction to prohibit outside companies from being allowed to have franchises or other control over the site. He said city regulations now in effect should prohibit outside control.

“They didn’t want any commercial entities in control over the property,” Martin said. “I think we covered that with our public properties. We have ordinances that cover that. We can word it where that’s clear.”

Martin said the building restriction was intended to protect the property from future development.
“We don’t want to put too many buildings on there,” Martin said. “There should be language to say there’s a limit on the amount of buildings there. I don’t mind a learning center, but in the future, because once we put this in and we’re gone, what if they just come in and say they just want to start building on it through this loophole?”

Council members said plans for the site also include an access tunnel under the adjoining road, informational kiosks, nature trails, rest rooms and other improvements.
The triangle is a parcel at the intersections of Alabama 104, US 98 and Section Street. Fairhope bought the property in 2014 after a legal dispute with the owners over development of the land. Fairhope paid $8.75 million for the land after the owner sued the city over being denied permission to develop the site.
In 2021, the city received a grant of $999,989 through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, known as GOMESA, to develop the site as a nature park.

Municipal plans for the site call for the city to donate the property to the Fairhope Single Tax Colony. The colony will return the property to the city with deed restrictions intended to make certain that the site is always a nature park, according to previous reports.

“Once we do this deed, it will go from the City Council to the Single Tax Board to a vote of the Single Tax leaseholders if they don’t like what’s happening,” Sullivan said. “It’s pretty restrictive, so you just need to be careful about how you’re wording things.”

Sullivan said Fairhope officials are also working to prepare a forestry management plan for the site.

“We have reached out to Auburn to look at doing a forestry management plan, but that’s still not the overall plan for both parcels of that park, so we’re either going to have to either engage with somebody or ourselves to come up with a vision to see that park evolving into before we enter probably, these deed restrictions,” she said.
Sullivan said city officials will continue to work to develop a plan for the site.

“One of the first things we said we wanted to do was protect that greenspace and so this is our first attempt at doing that,” Sullivan said. “We don’t have to be in a rush, but definitely need to start considering how we want that park to look.”