Growth, environment among concerns for Baldwin County's future

Residents express opinions at county land-use plan meetings

By Guy Busby, Government Editor, guy@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 3/23/22

FOLEY — Baldwin residents worry about the impact of rapid growth and its impact on the environment, water quality and farming heritage of the region, officials preparing a county land-use plan said.

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Growth, environment among concerns for Baldwin County's future

Residents express opinions at county land-use plan meetings

Posted

FOLEY — Baldwin residents worry about the impact of rapid growth and its impact on the environment, water quality and farming heritage of the region, officials preparing a county land-use plan said.

Baldwin County held a series of four public meetings March 16 and 17 to discuss the plan with residents and hear their opinions. Meetings were held in Foley, Robertsdale, Bay Minette and Fairhope.
About 20 residents and officials took part.

Matthew Brown, county planning and zoning director, said the meetings are part of the process of preparing the plan that will help Baldwin officials plan for expected growth.

"Basically, it's a look into the future and the growth that we anticipate and saying how can we look at that anticipated future growth and try and make sure we're managing it in the best way possible so that way we're preserving the Baldwin County that we all love and enjoy so much," Brown said. "So that's what this process is and this is the first level of that live community input in addition to what we've done online already."

That future includes continued growth, Glenn Walter of Design Workshop, the company working with the county to create the plan, told residents at the meeting March 16 in Foley.

Baldwin County's population was 231,767 in the 2020 Census. By 2040, that number is expected to increase by about 119,000, Walter said.

Walter said surveys taken as part of the plan, find that growth worries many Baldwin residents.

"Growth is happening," Walter said. "They're projecting a lot of it and there is a really strong voice coming from the community already that says 'wait a minute. We're not sure we like all this. We're not sure we like the impacts of all this and it's affecting our natural environment and our rural landscape,' We think, as we move forward that we can accomplish both ends of the stick. We can retain those things that are important to protect and retain and we can also find ways and places to encourage the right amount of growth that's acceptable to the community."

He said planners have received 2,300 responses to surveys taken to prepare the plan.

About 83% of the responses listed unplanned or unregulated growth as a concern. Environmental stewardship was another leading response with about 46%, Walter said.

Residents said the top things they liked about Baldwin County were the relationship to the outdoors, a feeling of safety and security and a feeling of community.

Top areas to improve included traffic and limited transportation options, population growth and sprawling development.

The loss of the county's rural lifestyle and agriculture, maintaining natural resources, unplanned or unregulated growth were also concerns, Walter said.

"In terms of cultural issues, this loss of the rural lifestyle, that there's a need to think about the equal distribution of public facilities and services and the quality of those and housing affordability is becoming more of a concern as more and more people move here and the nature of housing changes," Walter said.

He said the county and cities also need to work together to set planning standards.

"We've heard a lot about the impact of sprawl and that it's threatening the natural environment," Walter said. "There's questions about water quality in particular and developing into wetlands and those kinds of things and that there is no real alignment between the county and municipalities around development standards and there's some contested ground around the municipalities that folks would like to get a little bit more clear so that the county functions a little bit more toward a consistent collaborative vision versus individual visions."

He said traffic congestion is also an issue. Residents said the county needs more trails and greenways as well. Waterways and water quality important considerations, protecting native tree cover, floodplain and wetland protection were also listed as issues.

"There was a desire to balance development with preservation," Walter said. "There was a concern that there was just too much residential development going on and that can be a pretty expansive discussion right there. Then the consideration that maybe it's time to think more about growth management tools as a way to protect what everybody loves about this place and to make sure that as the county moves forward that those things that everyone cherishes are not lost to unmanaged growth."

Brown said the county plan would only directly affect unincorporated areas where residents have voted to create zoning districts.

"There is a lot of planning and zoning issues going on throughout the county right now," Brown said. "We have planning and zoning items, moratoriums in different cities. There are comprehensive plan efforts going on in different cities. There are zoning referendums taking place regarding county zoning. So, we realize sometimes it can be difficult to sort out what's what in the county, If you're outside the corporate limits of a municipality, you're either in a zoned area or unzoned area. We don't decide that. The citizens decide that."

Baldwin County, growth, land use, plan

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