Baldwin County to update its land-use plan

By GUY BUSBY
Government Editor
guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 1/13/23

ROBERTSDALE — Baldwin County is working to update a land-use plan officials said is a decade out of date in the state's fastest growing region.A draft of the plan should be ready for …

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Baldwin County to update its land-use plan

Posted

ROBERTSDALE — Baldwin County is working to update a land-use plan officials said is a decade out of date in the state's fastest growing region.

A draft of the plan should be ready for consideration by the Baldwin County Planning Commission and County Commission later this year, Matthew Brown, county planning director, told members of both boards Thursday, Jan. 5.

"We're really excited about the plan that we developed," Brown said. "We think it's going to be the shortest-ever plan and yet the most functional master plan ever adopted by the county. In terms of the word count, it's probably shorter than the current plan, and in terms of functionality it should function better as well."

Brown said state law requires counties to have a land-use plan. He said the county's current plan has not been updated since 2013.

"So, the current plan was supposed to be updated in the first six months and then again six months later than ever year after that," Brown said. "But here we are 10 years later, 45,000 more population. There has been no update to this master plan. So that is the first reason why we're facing this decision now to update this document as required by the statute."

He said one example of an area where the plan is out of date is in Spanish Fort. The area near the intersection of Alabama 181 and U.S. 31 is rapidly developing with residential and commercial construction. Much of the property north of the intersection, however, is listed as agricultural, Brown said.

"The problem is so much has changed in Baldwin County over the past 10 years that that map, if we apply that, we shut down many developments that were in appropriate locations," Brown said. "So, we've had to basically say, well, the master plan says this, but we're just going to have to go against the master plan and that's because the master plan hasn't been updated and hasn't been allowed to evolve over time."

If approved by the county, the plan would only apply in unincorporated areas where zoning has been approved by district voters. He said residents in more areas are voting to establish zoning in their areas.

Brown said zoning has been approved in six districts in the last three years and rejected in three. Zoning votes are also planned in two more districts. He said the current land-use plan does not take new zoning districts into account.

"Suddenly, we have new districts in Baldwin County that are not contemplated by the existing plan. Therefore, it needs to be updated to accommodate those zoning districts," Brown said. "The great thing about the plan that we're proposing is even though it only applies to the zoned areas, it contemplates the unsolved areas so that if a community chooses to vote to bring in zoning, we won't have to update the plan and send those county resources just because new people have voted in zoning."

County Commissioner Matt McKenzie said that as the area develops, land uses will change. He cited an example of a farmer to whom he spoke recently.

"Earlier, he would tell you he didn't want to be zoned," McKenzie said. "He's a farmer. He would tell you heck no, but the way this county is growing, it's changing. Farming land is shrinking. Farmers are getting out of farming, and I don't blame them."

McKenzie said he understands both sides of the issue, but zoning can protect property as Baldwin County develops.

"There are pros and cons to zoning, and it's sore, but I think in the long run it's a good thing," McKenzie said. "I don't want anybody building a junk yard next to my property."

County Commissioner James "Jeb" Ball said the discussions of the plan by officials and residents is a good way for people who support development and people who are concerned about growth to be heard.

"Do we need to update the plan from 2013? Absolutely. There's no question about that, but the people who build houses are building them for people to live in. Without home builders, developers, there's no place for people to live. Baldwin County is a great place to come and live. People are aware of that," Ball said. "There're developers. There're people who are anti-development. They're also citizens. I support developers. I support people who complain about developers. I support this type of conversation because we haven't done this since we've been in office. It's a good conversation to have."

Brown said no deadline has been set to approve the plan. He said a draft of the plan still being updated is on the county website at www.baldwinourvision.com.

He said public comments on the plan can also be emailed to planning@baldwincountyal.gov.

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