Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Northport residents fight project

Courtesy of the City of Northport
An aerial rendering of the proposed University Beach water park in Northport. Courtesy of University Beach, LLC.

Many dissatisfied Northport residents are continuing to push back and seek legal counsel against the public-private partnership that the city entered with University Beach LLC in February. 

The $350 million project consists of a beach resort and water park that will be located off of Highway 82 West in District 5 within Northport. The resort will have beach homes, hotel lodging, restaurants and a concert venue.

The city of Northport is giving developers 11 acres of land for the resort, as well as $20 million from a $40 million grant that will also be used to fund the new 36-acre River Run Park sports complex.

District 1 representative Christy Bobo wrote in an email to The Crimson White that developers have purchased land from residents to proceed with the project.

“There is not a contractual provision to rescind or change the agreement,” Bobo wrote.

To help heal relationships between the council and its constituents, Bobo wrote that the city administrators, mayor and council will host workshops for residents, developers and city staff members to voice ideas for future community projects. 

“I believe disagreements are an opportunity to learn and benefit from one another,” Bobo wrote. “With that being said, healthy discussions do not include personal threats to lives, bodily harm, personal property livelihood, or harassing communications.”

Opponents of the project are signing a petition and donating to a GoFundMe campaign that will support any legal fees they encounter as they seek help from attorneys. The petition, which had reached more than 700 signatures as of writing, aims to stop the partnership.

Jack Roberts, a District 5 resident, said he started the GoFundMe campaign a few weeks ago as a starting point to raise money for legal help to fight the resort. He said attorneys are currently doing pro bono work to research the resort project and investigate whether the City Council had cut any corners, legally or ethically. 

Jack Roberts said the lawyers have not currently received any money, but if the attorneys find any legal issues, then the money will be used to compensate them for their services.

“Every single dime will be spent on defeating the water park, in one way, shape or form,” Jack Roberts said.

Jonathan Roberts, a District 1 resident and mechanic with no relation to Jack Roberts, said he is selling T-shirts on Facebook and by word of mouth to raise money for the GoFundMe campaign to help pay legal fees. 

Although he bought the shirts with his own money, Jonathan Roberts said he is not doing this for profit. He said he is selling shirts for $25 each.

Jonathan Roberts met with a graphic designer who created a University Beach-themed shirt to poke fun at the project. He said the shirt sale has the potential to raise around $1,500 for the GoFundMe campaign. 

Jack Roberts said he appreciates the sense of humor that these shirts allow people to have as they continue to fight the development. 

Kellen McQueen, a District 5 resident and social worker, started the petition in January as a way to give residents in her district a voice and potentially stop the land from being sold. She said that anyone, including nonresidents, can sign the petition to show their support.

“Even though the land has been sold, not everybody got an opportunity to speak at the open hearing, and it gives people another way to show that they oppose University Beach,” McQueen said.

McQueen said she would have appreciated more transparency from the City Council. She said residents have filed open records requests but have not received any documents so far besides a traffic impact study, which showed that the roads surrounding the proposed location of the resort, including Harper Road near the Flatwoods residential community, are already functioning over capacity.

Former Northport City Council President and District 5 representative Jeff Hogg’s recent resignation has led to a vacant seat on the council and Bobo being named president.

Some residents worry Bobo will continue to support the partnership her predecessor advocated for so strongly.  

Jack Roberts said he doesn’t view Bobo as an ally in the fight to stop the project development.

“Maybe she’ll surprise us, but we’re not depending on her for any substantial actions to stop this,” Jack Roberts said.

As one of Bobo’s constituents, Jonathan Roberts said he thinks she has the same attitude Hogg did when it comes to ignoring residents’ concerns.

Bobo told CBS 42 News that she wishes people would stop calling the resort a water park because “it’s a resort and a lifestyle change,” a lifestyle change that many community members still have questions about considering they were once promised a small, 11-acre water park

Jonathan Roberts agreed that this resort will be a lifestyle change, but he said the council didn’t consider how this change would affect the community, especially the residential one surrounding the development.

Bobo also told CBS 42 News that her suggestion to those who didn’t like the idea was “to take another look at it and meet with our staff and see if there are things you don’t understand.”

The council previously voted to suspend the regular proceeding rules, which meant there would be no second reading or discussion two weeks later at the council meeting.

Jonathan Roberts said the regular proceeding rules would have allowed more time for discussion by giving residents another two weeks to talk with the council to address any concerns and questions.

“They’re still referring to us as a handful of people who are encouraging discord,” Jonathan Roberts said. “They aren’t recognizing us as a group of citizens with legitimate concerns.”

McQueen said Bobo has an opportunity to mend the broken relationship between the council and its constituents. 

The city has followed the standard appointment procedure by opening the application process for residents in District 5 to apply for the empty seat. The council will then select one of the applicants. If the council does not appoint someone within 60 days, Gov. Kay Ivey selects the new representative. However, many residents, including Jack Roberts and McQueen, are calling on the council to hold a special election.

Jack Roberts said that if the council appoints someone to the vacant seat, it would be the second unelected member on this particular council, since Karl Wiggins was appointed by Ivey to fill the vacant District 3 seat in 2023. 

“This is a city council that has completely lost the trust and goodwill of the people they represent,” Jack Roberts said. “And I don’t feel like putting another unelected representative on this council is going to do anything to diffuse public mistrust of them.”

Wiggins wrote in an email statement to multiple constituents, who have inquired about a special election, including McQueen, that a special election would cost the city between $40,000 and $50,000.

“That would be a wasteful and irresponsible choice, in my opinion, especially since it would squander a fourth of the remaining term for that member,” Wiggins wrote.

However, Tuscaloosa County Probate Judge Rob Robertson said a special election would cost the city an estimated $13,625. The county probate office assists municipalities, like Northport, with elections by providing technical support, ballots, machines, poll workers and poll worker training. 

Robertson said he doesn’t know what information the Northport City Council has publicized, but $13,625 is the estimated cost he gave the council members and City Administrator Glenda Webb.

When constituents asked Wiggins about this estimated number that differed from his $40,000-$50,000 estimate, Wiggins responded on social media claiming this number was for a citywide election, not a single district.

Even though the city is giving developers only $20 million and 11 acres of land for the project, McQueen and other residents question why the council is trying to be financially conservative when it has entered into a $350 million partnership that will transfer 50% of all tax revenue from the beach resort to University Beach developers.

McQueen said residents need to continue to email their councilpeople and other local government officials regardless of which district they live in. She said residential areas, like the Flatwoods neighborhood in District 5, need to be safe from rezoning.

“It isn’t just a Flatwoods problem. It’s a Northport problem,” McQueen said.

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