ELBERTA — Growth in Baldwin County has become inevitable, but residents and officials are looking for ways to manage future development and change, local planners said recently.From housing …
ELBERTA — Growth in Baldwin County has become inevitable, but residents and officials are looking for ways to manage future development and change, local planners said recently.
From housing fewer than 100,000 people 30 years ago, Baldwin County's population is now more than 230,000 and is expected to exceed 300,000 by 2040, Buford King, assistant county planning director, said Tuesday, July 12.
"It's not a secret that Baldwin County is being developed," King said.
The Baldwin County Commission is preparing a long-range plan to manage the growth expected in the next two decades. As part of the preparation, officials and consultants have been meeting with residents in a series of public and online meetings.
Glenn Walters, a consultant with the Design Workshop who is working with the county on the plan, said more than 3,000 residents have talked to planners or studied the process on the plan website, baldwinourvision.com.
"We have had a lot of community engagement, a lot of data," Walters said. "Mapping exercises where people could say this is where we think we could support growth. This is where we should preserve things. This is where we think jobs ought to go."
At one of the public meetings in Elberta on July 12, residents said they did not expect growth to stop, but they did not want their community overwhelmed by development.
"We know growth is coming," one resident said. "We just don't want 300-home subdivisions out here."
Walters said residents' main concerns are protecting the natural environment, protecting the area's rural character and addressing issues associated with sprawling growth. Some other issues include protecting agricultural lands, mitigating floods, improving transportation options and connectivity and maintaining the character of communities and quality of life, Walters said.
Planners also want to make sure that public services are distributed fairly across the county, Walters said.
Part of the process is preparing maps showing where growth is expected, such as near municipalities and commercial areas, and mapping rural communities or areas with sensitive environments that should be preserved.
"What this map does is gives us a lens to look at where growth could best be supported if you just had the opportunity to make that decision and where land areas are that might lean more toward conservation and preservation because they're so environmentally sensitive and might have impacts on water quality, riparian systems or habitats," Walters said.
He said many zoning maps just look at current designations and do not plan for preservation.
"They're just looking at land use in a vacuum," Walters said. "But all these things are critical to people, and one of the reasons for us being here and loving it so much is the quality of the natural environment, and that's under threat as things get more paved. But we also wanted to look at, wanted to understand where growth would logically take place. around municipalities, where jobs are, places that are attributes."
"We're going to grow. We're not saying necessarily to cut off growth, but there are some places that are better suited for it just based on those attributes than other places. So that could help us think about those kinds of things," Walters added.
County officials have been working on the plan for about eight months. Walters said planners should have a draft plan ready to present to the county commission in about four months.
King said the plan will be used in addition to current guidelines, such as the county zoning maps for unincorporated areas and subdivision regulations.
"We have two rule books," King said. "We have the zoning ordinances, which govern the use of land. We have the subdivision regulations, which govern the subdivision of land and the technical standards for how you can improve land in certain situations, but what we don't have is a guidebook. We have rulebooks, but we don't have a guidebook. This is what we're developing right here."
The new plan will apply in unincorporated areas of Baldwin County that have zoning, according to county reports.