Baldwin County District 14 committee continues to review zoning regulations for future development

Posted 8/21/23

SUMMERDALE — Planning District 14 in Baldwin County is making strides in reviewing and editing its zoning regulations as a draft of new rules.

Since July 20, a planning committee has been …

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Baldwin County District 14 committee continues to review zoning regulations for future development


SUMMERDALE — Planning District 14 in Baldwin County is making strides in reviewing and editing its zoning regulations as a draft of new rules.

Since July 20, a planning committee has been meeting to consider potential zoning regulations. Led by Baldwin County Planning and Zoning Director Matthew Brown, these meetings are aimed at fostering well-informed decisions that could reshape the landscape of the county's development.

The committee consists of five people, all who say they grew up in the area and want to have a voice in planning and zoning matters. Marla Barnes, Connie Fidler Glassford, Thomas Kiel, Jefferey Underwood and George Watters make up the committee.

At the original meeting in July, Barnes explained what got her involved in planning and zoning. “I started to get involved when I found out that we as citizens don't have a voice when it comes to planning and zoning matters,” said Barnes, who was an organizer for the petition to create a zoning district in the Silverhill area.

To bring zoning to an unincorporated planning district, community organizers must first work with the county to establish boundaries for their proposed district, often distinguished by major roads or natural boundaries such as waterways. The group then has 120 days to get 10% of the registered voters in that district to sign a petition asking for a zoning vote to be held.

Unincorporated areas of Baldwin County have been opting for zoning to prevent the potential for massive subdivisions or big box stores to be constructed near their neighborhoods without restraints.

Some longtime residents who were traditionally against any governmental body dictating local decisions have gotten on board with zoning to protect their agricultural lands and prevent runoff from seeping off of construction sites.

Since 2020, at least 11 planning districts have voted in favor of zoning by their respective residents.

“Zoning is kind of like going from backyard sports with no written rules to more formal sports with established rules," Brown said. Residents in District 14, which surrounds the town of Silverhill and stretches west to Fish River and south to Weeks Bay, voted June 6, with 656 yes votes and 365 no votes, to approve the creation of zoning in the district.

Any development that was approved before the vote was grandfathered in. Any property owner wanting to rezone or build moving forward must adhere to the rules the committee writes. Watters explained that the goal he wants to achieve is happiness. “I believe there's a happy medium. This can be worked out, and we can save the community and have development but have some guidelines where everybody can be happy,” he said.

Zoning, the practice of dividing a county into distinct areas and districts, is a tool for balancing industrial, residential and recreational development. The planning committee’s discussions revolve around achieving balance, ensuring industrial zones are separated from residential and rural spaces.

Meetings have continued to convene since July20, centered on the planning committee's goal to finalize a zoning ordinance by October, with the approval from the county commission targeted for November.

Numerous topics have been debated, including solid waste management, commercial building facades, landscape buffers for significant projects, side-walks for major projects, cultural heritage considerations, traffic studies, protection of native trees and public safety access roads in residential developments.

While some topics remain under discussion, a consensus has emerged on certain issues. State Rep. Jennifer Fidler, who represents Fairhope, Foley, Summerdale, Silverhill and Magnolia Springs, emphasized the importance of heritage in the decision-making process.

"As we think about this, would the board consider our heritage? As we have these façade requirements, take notes on the heritage of the community and find interest in that," she said.

Regarding public safety access roads in residential areas, the committee aligns with recommendations from the state fire marshal and the Alabama administrative code, specifying that one- or two-family residential developments should have two access points.

The committee is also grappling with the potential for ordinance changes that would allow specific residential agricultural uses (RA) in designated residential single-family (RSF) zones.

Additionally, discussions have centered around the use of materials that could affect water quality within a flood zone along Fish River.

Among the other debated topics is the establishment of medical cannabis dispensaries, with the consensus leaning toward the need for more research before coming to consensus.

 Medical cannabis was recently approved by the state, with the next steps being applicants who were approved for cultivation, processing or distribution to look for locations.

 While numerous topics remain on the agenda, the committee continues to work toward its goal to shape the district's future development in the way its residents deem appropriate.

 The next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 24 at the Robertsdale Central Annex from 9 to 11 a.m. These sessions are open to the public.