Moratoriums, Impact Fees, and More: How Fastest Growing Alabama County Continues to Fight Growth
Kendall Eringman lives in a subdivision north of Fairhope Business Center where her grandparents once lived and where this “little town, little country” still reigns today.
But a nearby development could bring a wave of new residents to a city already overheated with growth, and Eringman worries. She voiced her concerns to Fairhope City Council on December 13, moments before council authorized the second moratorium related to the city’s development in the past five years.
“It’s threatening to us that it’s getting so close to our homes,” Eringman said.
Fairhope’s 12-month moratorium applies to all new subdivision and multi-occupancy projects or apartment complexes outside the city limits but within its five-mile planning jurisdiction where new construction activity is underway. Classes. The moratorium applies to fast-growing pockets outside the northern city limits on US 98, and south of the city limits of Fairhope along the same freeway. Also included is Alabama State Route 181, which is being widened and where a new Publix grocery store is under development.
“Developers will see a slowdown,” Fairhope Mayor Sherry Sullivan said. “They won’t submit new projects. But from a layman’s perspective, they won’t see much of a difference.
The moratorium is the latest in a series of tools used by cities in Alabama’s fast-growing county to slow growth for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest concerns cited by local politicians is the need for cities like Fairhope to ensure that their existing utilities – water, sewer and gas – can keep up with increased activity. But traffic jams, sudden increases in enrollment at local schools and lack of zoning in areas outside city limits are also concerns.
Recent actions by municipal authorities illustrate some of the efforts to calm activity:
- City of Daphne officials voted in September in favor of a six-month moratorium on rezoning requests from developers that would allow the construction of multi-family complexes, such as apartments, townhouses and condos.
- Foley instituted an impact fee on new development within city limits in July. Charges cannot exceed 1 percent of the estimated fair and reasonable market value of a new development after its completion. The royalty revenues go to the new infrastructure to accommodate the new development.
- Gulf Shores, which is Alabama’s fastest growing city since the 2010 census, has a host of regulations in place to control dense growth within city limits and to preserve park ownership. One big change, implemented last year, is to require developers to apply for a “conditional use permit” if they want to build multi-family dwellings such as apartments. This process allows for a more careful examination of a development, ensuring that it conforms to the city’s land use plan and whether there are sufficient public services to accommodate it.
Other cities are facing strong growth in their own way. Spanish Fort, for example, does not have zoning to allow apartment construction within city limits, according to Mayor Mike McMillan.
Managing growth remains the # 1 issue that dominates discussions in town halls across Coastal County and within the county commission chambers in Bay Minette. The county added 49,502 residents between 2010 and 2020, the equivalent of adding the entire population of Biloxi, Mississippi, over a 10-year period.
Growth rates were staggering in cities struggling to thwart congestion on major highways like Alabama State Route 59 and Canal Road. Popular beach towns on the Alabama coast have seen explosive growth: Gulf Shores has grown from 9,471 in 2010 to 15,014 in 2020, a whopping 54.1% increase. Orange Beach saw an increase of 48.8%, from 5,441 in 2010 to 8,095 in 2020.
Every city on the East Coast has grown far beyond what most cities in Alabama can imagine. Spanish Forth (47.8%), Fairhope (46.7%) and Daphne (27.3%) continued a strong growth trend first established in the 1980s.
Daphne is the largest town in Baldwin County with 27,460 residents, but in 1980 it was smaller than Loxley. Over the past 10 years, Loxley has grown from town to town, growing from 1,632 to 3,710, an incredible increase of 127.3%.
The National Association of Real Estate Agents, during a review of 2021 and a perspective of 2022, took note of this. The Daphne-Fairhope-Foley region has been named one of the country’s 10 “hidden gems” for the housing market where growth rates outperform the rest of the United States. All of the regions listed as “hidden gems” were in the south. These also included Huntsville and Pensacola.
“The growth and number of new subdivision applications has been extraordinary over the past two years,” said Tommy Stanton, Chairman of the Board of Baldwin REALTORS. “Based on the number of approved applications already submitted and not yet built, there will be a significant number of new homes that will continue to come onto the market. “
“The right time to do it”
Stanton supports Fairhope’s efforts to tame growth through a temporary moratorium.
For Fairhope, this is the second time council members have adopted a moratorium to curb development. The last time was in 2016, when board members put in place a six-month moratorium on large-scale developments. This moratorium was put in place at a time when the city’s planning and zoning office was inundated with project applications.
“While we support growth and progress, preservation and strategic planning are crucial for Baldwin County,” he said. “It is important to map and plan for smart growth so that essential public services and services are delivered in all areas. “
Indeed, part of the rationale for Fairhope’s latest moratorium is to give the city some time to prepare a new comprehensive plan, which will conclude a process that is expected to end around this time next year. The deployment of the comprehensive plan will coincide with the expiration of the current moratorium.
“Now is the right time to do it,” said Fairhope City Councilor Cory Martin.
Fairhope isn’t the only city going through a comprehensive planning process. Daphne is also moving forward with her own plan that will help define the city’s vision for the future with long-term goals and objectives affecting local city government. The last time Fairhope updated their full plan was in 2005, when the city was over 7,000 fewer people.
Sullivan, who was elected mayor in 2020, said one of the biggest challenges she faced early in her term is planning. She said part of the frustration with planning is that the city only plays a “reactionary” role until it can unveil a new master plan to guide the city for its future development.
“We need to have time to catch our breath and be able to make sure that we are good stewards of Fairhope for generations to come,” she said.