The Baldwin County Commission officially approved its first new planning district in more than 10 years Tuesday, in spite of pending litigation seeking to declare it unlawful. Now, all property located roughly between Twin Beech Road, County Road 32 and South Section Street in Point Clear is within Planning District 19.
According to local provisions adopted by the commission, 21 specific uses are prohibited within the district, but it also provides some variances to recognize a historically African-American neighborhood that has opposed zoning efforts in the past. The provisions include the county’s first “Family Heritage Overlay District,” which carves out special provisions to allow for the continuance of nonconforming uses while also creating “heirs property.”
On Tuesday, resident and organizer Tracy Frost told the commission the special provisions were created in response to backlash from the Black community, some of whom argued they were largely excluded from a quiet referendum to create the district Dec. 29. The district was approved by 91 percent of the 321 people who voted, Frost pointed out, and an advisory committee later included some of the very people who believe they were left out.
“This effort began last summer as many citizens felt they had no voice in what was happening in the community when living in an unzoned portion of the area,” she said. “While growth is inevitable and important to our area, we as citizens along with our local officials must be mindful to move forward to ensure we are responsibly growing while preserving the things that make this such a unique and beautiful community.”
She said District 19’s local provisions align with the county’s master plan and, combined with the overlay district, “supports the residential makeup of our community and offers flexibility for community-supported businesses and a manner to offset additional hardship on the environment.”
In February, district residents Gregory Knight and Willard Holliman filed suit against the county, claiming the district lines were unfairly drawn to exclude minority voters who defeated a similar measure more than a decade ago. On March 31 the county filed a partial motion to dismiss and the following day, without holding a hearing, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Norton granted it, prompting the plaintiffs to call for his recusal.
In a motion to reconsider filed earlier this month, the plaintiffs argue the county is characterizing the dispute as an election contest when it is actually a question of “how the election results were applied.” State law declares “if a majority of the qualified electors in a district vote in the affirmative, then the district shall be subject to the zoning and planning jurisdiction of the Baldwin County Commission.”
“The last sentence of the statute clearly states that a majority of the qualified electors in a district, not a majority of qualified electors voting in the election,” the plaintiffs argue. “Plaintiffs allege in the complaint that a majority of the qualified electors of District 19 did not appear at the election and vote in favor of zoning. As such, Baldwin County has never had planning and zoning authority.”
Norton set a hearing on the matter June 22, but Commissioners Skip Gruber and Joe Davis said they were confident the district would be upheld.
“I think everybody went through the process how they were instructed to,” Gruber said. “I think everything was on the up and up.”
Davis said, “I feel very comfortable that all aspects of this were adequately discussed and aired and I think it has a great future going forward.”
The commission approved the district unanimously over the objections of plaintiffs’ advocate Willie Williams, president of the Baldwin County Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee Inc.
“We were not treated fairly,” he said. “This was done undercover and it’ll bear out in the court proceedings.”
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here