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As Fairhope’s development moratorium expires, planners consider what could change logo 8/2/2022 Margaret Kates,
Members of the Fairhope Planning Commission meet to discuss changes to the city's zoning and subdivision ordinances. © Margaret Kates | mkates/ Members of the Fairhope Planning Commission meet to discuss changes to the city's zoning and subdivision ordinances.

Last December, the Fairhope City Council voted to place a one-year moratorium on new subdivisions and multiple occupancy developments outside of city limits but within the city’s planning jurisdiction. Seven months into the moratorium, the city’s Planning Commission is beginning to consider amending zoning ordinances to control the growth that precipitated the moratorium in the first place.

“We’re looking for ways to make sure the growth affects people negatively as little as possible,” Lee Turner, chairman of the Fairhope Planning Commission, said. “The better you have your regulations to address sewage and side stream storage, the fewer incidents you’ll have of sewage in the Bay, raw sewage on the ground, those incidents that nobody likes.”

Turner said that the moratorium was primarily spurred by concern from the city’s public utilities, which said that the rapid development was straining the area’s infrastructure. Since the moratorium has been in place, the utilities have been meeting to discuss how growth can be controlled and infrastructure can be improved, Turner said. The utilities will deliver recommendations to the planning and zoning department, which will then deliberate and propose changes to the city’s zoning and subdivision ordinances that the commission will consider.

But time is of the essence, as the commission is hoping to have the rule changes implemented before the end of the moratorium on Dec. 13.

At Monday’s commission meeting, two primary areas of concern were discussed: stormwater runoff regulations and short-term rental regulations. No decisions were made. Monday’s meeting was more about getting the ball rolling.

Planning and Zoning Director Hunter Simmons emphasized that the department wanted to ensure that developers had options on how to deal with stormwater runoff. The department presented some proposed changes to the city’s subdivision ordinances on stormwater runoff. It proposed prohibiting developments from discharging stormwater into adjoining properties unless the developer limits discharge to the level of a ten-year frequency storm, the adjacent property owner signs a release okaying the storm water discharge or the developer plans to retain water at the level of a one-hundred-year frequency storm.

On the issue of rentals, Turner wanted to make sure that the planning commission took the steps needed to encourage short term rentals in the area, primarily in the city’s central business district. He argued that people who stay in short-term rentals were more likely to patronize the city’s businesses, keeping the downtown thriving. Other members of the commission were more cautious, citing concerns about noise.

In addition to these two items, the planning commission this fall will need to consider creating new zoning districts, mixed-use development requirements, fire protection and road and traffic regulations for subdivisions. In some cases, the planning commission can amend the ordinances themselves; in other cases, the commission delivers recommendations to the city council to vote.

Some zoning issues aren’t even up to the Fairhope city government: Baldwin County is considering amending the county planning districts so that municipalities only have planning jurisdiction over property within their corporate limits. Currently, Fairhope retains planning jurisdiction of some property outside of its corporate limits.

According to planning and zoning staff, the city of Fairhope asked the county to consider property less than a mile and a half outside of its corporate limits to be within the city’s planning jurisdiction. That issue has not been resolved.

In addition to discussing amendments to the city’s zoning and subdivision ordinances, the planning and zoning commission also gave final plat approval to a 41-lot subdivision called Parkstone. The subdivision sits off U.S. Highway 98, across the street from Parker Road. The property is owned by Eastpark, LLC, based in Daphne.

The commission had considered Parkstone for approval earlier in the summer, but tabled approval after planning and zoning staff found many issues with the needed water and sewage improvements on the site. While some issues are still ongoing, planning staff recommended the commission approve the subdivision, pending utility sign-off.

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