Dothan Planning Commission approves new hotel

Garden District resident Jonas Forrester points to the proposed hotel site that will be near his property during the Dothan Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday.

A plan to build a four-story Tru Hotel by Hilton was approved by the Dothan Planning Commission, 8-1, on Wednesday morning in front of a room of clearly unhappy Garden District residents.

During the meeting, the developer agreed to increase the height of a proposed fence from 6 feet to 8 feet on the south edge of the property to appease some residents’ concerns that people would still be able to look into their backyards and homes if they were standing next to the fence.

Commissioners agreed to attach the condition of an 8-foot fence as a formal staff recommendation and a condition that the project’s landscaping architect consult with the Dothan Planning and Development Department’s long-range planner, Bob Wilkerson.

During the meeting, Wilkerson said a landscape architect should have been consulted earlier in the planning phase of the development considering the magnitude of how it would affect adjacent residential properties. He recommended several species of tall evergreen trees that would grow 40 feet tall.

He also suggested changing grade level where the 30-foot buffer is planned so that trees are taller when initially planted or using a large architectural structure that would act as a wall for evergreen vines to grow.

Several nearby residents who would be affected by the hotel voiced their concerns at the Planning Commission’s meeting after hearing plan details from Frank Breax, the Planning and Development Department’s senior planner, and Lee Brown, an engineer representing the property owner.

Several residents worried about light pollution and hotel guests’ visibility into their backyards and homes, but most expressed apprehension of issues related to safety and security as they have children who frequently play in the backyard.

“I’d have to not be in support of the property,” Mark Poland, a Rosetta Circle resident, plainly said while addressing the commission. “I have a lot of concerns about the property that I don’t think the type of property it is can be addressed by the nature of what it is — even though a lot of concessions have been made for landscaping and fencing.”

Another resident, Cheri Knowles, who spoke on behalf of her neighbors, said she believes the property was not suitable for a tall hotel.

“It’s just an invasion,” she said. “This is just a little much. I understand it’s zoned for that, but I don’t think when people invested their money into these properties to have their homes — and be lifelong residents of Dothan — that they thought they’d have to look up at something in the sky that’s overlooking them.”

The parcel of land is zoned B-2 for highway commercial development, which permits hotels and motels. The developers did not ask for special exceptions to existing ordinances, like the developer who tried to build a similar hotel on the property five years ago.

Planning Commission Chairman Jerry Coleman said the plans submitted adhered to B-2 district regulations, and the developer seems sympathetic to residents’ concerns. Those factors led to him and seven other commissioners to approve of the plans.

Commissioners Mickey Davis, David Brewer, Milt Wood, Aline Roberts, Gantt Pierce, Bob Whiddon and Neil Holloway voted in favor of the development.

Darrin Swan voted against the measure. Swan was sitting in for David Cornelius, who was present but abstained from discussion on the matter.

Brown said that after another month of planning and design, the developer’s selected contractor, Hollis and Spann, should be able to start construction of the hotel. Brown anticipates nine to 12 months to complete the project.

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